Reading and Writing

, Volume 15, Issue 7–8, pp 653–682 | Cite as

Phoneme awareness and pathways into literacy: A comparison of German and American children

  • Virginia MannEmail author
  • Heinz Wimmer


Where American kindergartners are taughtletters and letter sounds, Germankindergartners are not; where American firstand second graders receive an eclectic blend ofwhole language, whole word and phonics-basedapproaches, their German counterparts aretaught by an intensive synthetic phonicsapproach. As a probe to the consequences ofthese pedagogical differences on the emergenceof phoneme awareness, this study administeredtwo tests of phoneme awareness tokindergarten-, first- and second-grade childrenin Germany and America, along with readingtests, the digit span test and a test of RANcolor naming ability. The American kindergartenchildren excelled on a phoneme identityjudgement and a phoneme deletion task that theGerman kindergartners found difficult. Theiradvantage held equally whether the manipulatedsound was a syllable onset or the initial partof a consonant cluster. The first and secondgraders surpassed the kindergartners in bothcountries; however, the German first and secondgraders equaled their American peers on bothtasks and both types of units. In addition,the German children were more accurate decodersof pseudowords by the end of second grade, andthe association between phoneme awareness andGerman decoding ability was weaker. Anincreased emphasis on phonics and the greatertransparency of the German alphabet arediscussed as possible factors in the decodingexcellence of the German second graders and itsdecreased association with phoneme awareness.The contrast between the American and Germankindergartners and the equivalence of the firstand second graders in the two countries areconsistent with a view that phoneme awarenessdevelops primarily as a product of literacyexposure.

Cross-language comparison Early literacy Phoneme awareness 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Cognitive SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of Developmental PsychologyUniversitätSalzburgGermany

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