Phonological Awareness in Spanish: A Tutorial for Speech-Language Pathologists

Article excerpt

In the United States, more than 2 million children in Grades pre-K through 6 speak Spanish as their primary language. Approximately 50% of these students receive academic instruction in Spanish. This tutorial provides research-based recommendations for presenting phonological awareness tasks to children who receive literacy instruction in Spanish. The authors also discuss how phonological awareness development may differ between monolingual children learning Spanish and monolingual children learning English, and the implications of these differences for choosing appropriate phonological awareness tasks for Spanish speakers.


Phonological awareness is the ability to consciously reflect on and manipulate the sound components of language, such as syllables and phonemes (Gillam & van Kleeck, 1996). Phonological awareness is one critical component of reading acquisition (Adams, 1990; Goswami & Bryant, 1990; Perfetti, Beck, Bell, & Hughes, 1987; Tunmer & Nesdale, 1985). In fact, it has been shown to be a stronger predictor of reading development than IQ, language proficiency, and other conventional tests of reading readiness (Juel, Griffith, & Gough, 1986; Lombardino, Riccio, Hynd, & Pinheiro, 1997; Mann, 1991; Stanovich, Cunningham, & Cramer, 1984; Vellutino & Scanlon, 1987; Wagner, 1988). Phonological deficiencies hamper a reader's ability to use letter-sound relationships to recognize new words. Consequently, low phonological awareness is strongly associated with reading deficits and is even thought to cause reading failure in some children (Kamhi & Catts, 1999). Based on this research, current reading assessment practices for mainstream children frequently incorporate measures of phonological awareness to identify and develop interventions for children at risk for reading deficits.

The U.S. Department of Education and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) have strongly encouraged speech--language pathologists (SLPs) to take an active role in promoting young children's literacy development (ASHA, 2001). Justice, Invernizzi, and Meier (2002) recommended that the early screening protocols used by SLPs include items for evaluating literacy motivation, home literacy, awareness of letter names, letter--sound correspondence, written language, and phonological awareness. Numerous assessment instruments and intervention programs are available in English; however, research-based instruments are also needed for children who speak languages other than English.


According to the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Educational Programs (NCELA), more than 1 million students enrolled during the 2000-2001 school year in Grades pre-K through 12 had recently come to the United States (Kindler, 2002). More than 3 million children (11.7% of the total) enrolled in Grades pre-K through 6 were classified as Limited English Proficient (LEP). Moreover, the highest proportion of students with LEP (44%) was enrolled in early elementary grades, when early identification of reading and writing deficits is most crucial. The NCELA also reported that Spanish is the primary language of 79% of students with LEP (Kindler, 2002). Research has indicated that phonological awareness and literacy are strongly correlated in other alphabetic languages, such as Spanish (Carrillo, 1994; Durgunoglu, Nagy, & Hancin-Bhatt, 1993; Jimenez, 1997; Manrique & Signorini, 1994; Signorini, 1997; Vernon & Ferreiro, 1999). Phonological awareness thus is important for SLPs who are more actively involved in the literacy development of children entering school with Spanish as their primary language.

In areas of the United States with sufficient Latino populations, many Spanish-speaking children enroll in bilingual education programs, such as dual-language or transitional, where they receive literacy instruction in their native language. …