Language & Reading

What is a Phoneme, Really?

The word “phoneme” gets tossed around a lot in talk of early reading instruction. It is an important concept in relation to phonics based approaches to the subject. Reading teachers are typically taught that a phoneme is a “speech sound”,1 but that isn’t quite right. In fact, a phoneme is better defined as a set of speech sounds. So, a phoneme is a mental abstraction, a category. It is not an individual sound, but rather a collection of speech sounds that behave similarly.