Phonemic awareness is the ability to distinguish the sounds, or phonemes, in spoken language as they relate to the written language. Phonemic awareness is not the same thing as phonics, but rather a precursor to understanding phonics, which is like a code for learning to sound out written words. Phonemic awareness is considered extremely important in the early stages of literacy and has been studied closely as it applies to early childhood education and the development of literacy skills.
Researchers have determined that phonemic awareness is important because it requires readers to become aware of the sounds that letters represent and helps beginning readers better identify with the alphabet. The English alphabet consists of 26 letters, but there are well over 26 sounds in the English language, each represented in print by a single letter or group of letters. Phonemic awareness is the auditory process of identifying the sounds so that later, the printed letters can be matched up with their proper sounds.