Phonological Processing

Phonological processing is the use of the sounds of one's language (i.e., phonemes) to process spoken and written language (Wagner & Torgesen, 1987).The broad category of phonological processing includes phonological awareness, phonological working memory, and phonological retrieval.

All three components of phonological processing are important for speech production as well as the development of spoken and written language skills. Therefore, it is important and necessary to monitor the spoken and written language development of children with phonological processing difficulties.

Phonological Awareness

Phonological awareness is the awareness of the sound structure of a language and the ability to consciously analyze and manipulate this structure via a range of tasks, such as speech sound segmentation and blending at the word, onset-rime, syllable, and phonemic levels. Phonological awareness is the umbrella term; phonemic awareness applies when the units being manipulated are phonemes, rather than words, onset-rime segments, or syllables.

Phonological Working Memory

Phonological working memory involves storing phoneme information in a temporary, short-term memory store (Wagner & Torgesen, 1987). This phonemic information is then readily available for manipulation during phonological awareness tasks. Nonword repetition (e.g., repeat /pæg/) is one example of a phonological working memory task.

Phonological Retrieval

Phonological retrieval is the ability to recall the phonemes associated with specific graphemes, which can be assessed by rapid naming tasks (e.g., rapid naming of letters and numbers). This ability to recall the speech sounds in one's language is also integral to phonological awareness.


Wagner, R. K., & Torgesen, J. K. (1987). The nature of phonological processing and its causal role in the acquisition of reading skills. Psychological Bulletin, 101, 192-212.

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