Phonemic awareness is difficult for ELLs because they may not yet have enough experience with English to be able to distinguish sounds that differ from those of their native language. There are three aspects of phonological awareness when learning to read in a second language that are important for teachers of ELLs to remember and incorporate into their instruction:
ELLs cannot develop phonological awareness in English until they are familiar with the sounds of English not only 26 alphabets.
This means that before explicit instruction in phonological awareness begins, children should have extensive experiences with fun and appealing songs, poems, chants, and read-alouds that will allow them to hear and reproduce the sound patterns of English.
Once explicit instruction has begun, modifications must be made to allow for more practice with sounds that can potentially cause confusion.
These are sounds that either don’t exist in the native language (most of the short vowel sounds of English don’t exist in Spanish, for example), or sounds that are perceived as different in English but the same in the native language (such as /r/ and /l/ for speakers of Japanese, or /b/ and /v/ for speakers of Spanish). Because these differences vary from one language to another, teachers will have to become familiar with which sounds of English will need extra practice, depending on the language backgrounds of their students.
Once phonological awareness has developed in any language, it transfers to other languages that are learned.
Therefore, students who are literate in their native language will not need to develop this skill again in English; they will only need to become familiar with the sounds of English and to learn to discriminate sounds that are different between their native language and English.