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Phonological Development in Children: Stages & Overview

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  • 0:04 Child Phonological Development
  • 0:41 Major Skills
  • 2:14 Stages of Development
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

In this lesson you'll learn all about how children develop the ability to turn basic units of sound into actual language. We'll cover the major phonological skills and the stages of development. Following the lesson is a short quiz.

Child Phonological Development

Hopefully this isn't new to you, but babies aren't born with the ability to speak. Wouldn't that be a little creepy? 'Hello mother dearest. Be a lamb and fetch me a towel, I seem to be a bit damp.' Weird, right? Though phonology, or the systematic organization of sounds into language, begins quite early, children don't really begin to speak in anything that approximates meaningful words until they are about one year old. In this lesson, we'll go through some of the major developmental skills children acquire and the stages they go through to learn to understand and speak their language.

A happy, albeit unintelligible, baby
A smiling baby

Major Skills

There are several major phonological skills that all of us acquire as children naturally. These abilities can't be considered taught, as all children without major cognitive or physical challenges will acquire them. The particular skills in the following list are acquired in order as they go from easiest to most difficult.

  • Word awareness is the ability to track specific words in a sentence. Most children acquire this ability between 1.5 and 2 years.
  • Understanding rhyme and alliteration: by age 4, most children can understand and appreciate rhyming and alliteration. Many children's stories utilize these tactics (e.g., Sally sells seashells by the seashore).
  • Syllable awareness: at 5 years old, most children are aware of syllables and are able to manipulate them in a basic manner.
  • Rhyme manipulation: producing a rhyme is far more difficult than understanding one. This ability tends to be mastered by 5.5 years old.
  • Phoneme awareness: this is the most difficult skill in phonological development and is gained between 6 and 9 years of age. Phoneme awareness is the ability for the child to manipulate phonemes, the smallest unit of spoken language. For example, a child who has mastered this skill should be able to mentally alter words by adding or deleting phonemes, such as changing the /n/ sound in the word rain to an /l/, making rail. It sounds simple to you, but asking a 5 year old to do this will be a lesson in frustration.

Stages of Development

Now that we understand some of the big skills that children acquire, let's look at the overall development children undergo throughout their early years. As mentioned before, the hardest skill to master (phoneme awareness) can be achieved as early as 6 years old, so most of the phonological development takes place between 0 and 6 years of age.

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