Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound in a language. This is a consonant or vowel sound. Many languages share the same sounds, but not all sounds exist in all languages.
Phonemic awareness: The ability to identify and manipulate the sounds of your first language.
Phonology: The way that the phonemes of a language are put together into common patterns. Languages differ in the way that they combine sounds and create sound patterns.
Phonological awareness: The ability to identify and manipulate sound patterns of your first language. This includes recognizing syllables and rhyme patterns.
There has been ample evidence that developing infants can recognize the sounds that are unique to their first language by as early as 11 months (check out the neat video below). What this tells us is that children’s brains are very aware of their surroundings and are picking up on what they are hearing (if their hearing is not affected). They may not be able to make sense of it just yet, but they are certainly registering it. Babies are not just cute; they’re little sponges for experience!
Given this fact, it is reasonable to assume that the more children hear others talk around them, the more phonemes and phonological processes they register. A large-scale study conducted in 1995 (an oldie but a goodie) found a direct relationship between the amount of talking parents did to their kids from infancy and their kids’ language development, reading development and success in school in the elementary years. The kids spoken to most spoke earlier, developed their speech faster, and did better academically than those spoken to less. Check out the link below for a nice summary of the findings of this study.
The take-home message is the same as always: talk to, read to, sing to, and play with your babies from the day they are born!
Make a referral to learn specific strategies to use with your child in order to optimize his or her language development.