Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Arabic Phonemic Awareness (PA): The Need for an Assessment Tool

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Arabic Phonemic Awareness (PA): The Need for an Assessment Tool

Article excerpt


Phonemic awareness (PA), the consciousness of the sounds of the language, plays an instrumental role in reading development; research confirms that individuals with difficulty in detecting or manipulating sounds in words will struggle with learning to read. In spite of the plethora of instruments assessing PA of other languages, there is a dearth of research addressing PA in Arabic, the mother tongue of no less than 400 million people. Benefitting from previous research in the field, this paper is the first to develop and administer an instmment towards this end. Our proposed instrument, which includes 24 carefully selected words based on the standards of familiarity and feature analysis with a reliability coefficient of (α= .927), was administered to 100 participants. The tool categorizes participants into three categories, highlights the role of KG, and reports on words the learners found easy and those difficult to segment. The paper calls for more research to investigate the role of Arabic PA in empowering Arab children's reading ability.

Keywords: Arabic, speakers of Arabic, phonemic awareness, phonological awareness, reading

1. Introduction

Phonological awareness has gained momentum in the field of literacy during the last few decades with special interest in investigating the contribution of its most sophisticated level, PA to literacy. Phonological awareness, the consciousness of the sounds of the language including syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes (Gillet, Temple, & Crawford, 2004; Layton, Deeny, Upton, & Tall, 1998; Sensenbaugh, 2000; Stanovich, 1994), encompasses the awareness of, and the ability to manipulate, phonemes including deleting, adding, or substituting (Anthony & Francis, 2005; Chard & Dickson, 1999). Recent investigations in language acquisition have addressed the relationship between PA and reading ability (Ehri, 1991; Goswami, 2000; Olofsson & Niedersoe, 1999) concurring children with reading disabilities could neither segment nor blend the sounds of a spoken word. Without the appropriate assessment tools, these investigations could not have been carried out, such important findings would not have been revealed, and children would have stayed in struggle with reading.

The international literature exhibits a wide variety of tests and tools that measure phonological awareness in general and PA in specific for many languages over the world. The target language of this study, Arabic, is the mother tongue for about 400 million people, the second language for almost a quarter of a billion, the official language of more than twenty Arab countries (Gordon, 2005), and the language of Quran, the holy book for more than one billion Muslims. Nonetheless, to date, there is a clear need for devising a tool that helps LI educators to assess Arab learners' PA as a requirement for diagnosing the weaknesses to work on and the strengths to enhance towards reading development. Accordingly, this study aimed at both a systematic development of an assessment tool and an assessment for Arabic PA to fill this void in the literature.

2. Area Description

PA skills provide children with better chances to become better readers. The National Reading Panel (2000) Report to the U.S. Congress strongly advocates helping children hear sounds in words, know the letters of the alphabets, know letter-to-sound correspondences, and be able to read words (Snow, Bums & Griffin, 1998). Efficient reading depends heavily on breaking the code of the sound system (Moats 2000); the secret of reading in alphabetical languages lies within the learners' ability to successfully carry out the phoneme-to-grapheme correspondences. In line with this, language teaching starts with establishing, developing, and enhancing the sound system in the learner prior to teaching the letters of the language-an instruction that focuses on PA as both a process and a product. Teachers' main goal at initial stages, accordingly, lies in enabling the learner to consciously manipulate the individual sounds of the language through rhyming, combining, segmenting, adding, and deleting (Chard & Dickson, 1999). …

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