It is important to know that, unlike the ability to use and understand spoken language, phonological awareness does not develop naturally. Like other metalinguistic knowledge (for instance, identifying the subject of a sentence or detecting a phonological process in action), most people do not develop it unless they are directly taught. Therefore, if phonological awareness is founational to reading skills, and it does not develop unless taught, many reading experts recommend phonological awareness training as a prerequisite to early literacy training. Phonological awareness can develop in some people as a result of being trained to use an alphabet, but there is no guarantee that it will. Research has found a strong correlation between lack of phonological awareness and reading failure. This suggests that some people need phonological awareness training in order to learn to read.
There are several levels of phonological awareness skills, corresponding to layers of phonological structure in language. Phonological awareness develops in top-down fashion; that is to say, the learner begins at the level of the whole word and gradually moves to ever-smaller parts of the word. Some scholars refer to these as shallower vs. deeper levels of phonological awareness. The shallower skills pertain to larger word-parts, the deeper skills to smaller word parts.
Shallower phonological awareness skills:
- Awareness that sentences and phrases can be divided up into single words
o For example, knowing that 'what're ya doing?' can be divided up into what, are, you and doing
- Awareness that some words share sounds or sound sequences
o For example, that the words sing and ring rhyme, or that the words sat and mad have the same middle sound, or that the words black and blue have the same beginnings.