What is Phonological Processing?

You may have heard of the term phonological processing and you may have even been told that you have weak phonological processing skills, but what does it mean exactly?

We all have a phonological processing system which is used to process basic word sounds. These basic word sounds are called phonemes. This is what children tend to learn when they first start school; for example, for the letter B they may say “ber” instead of “bee”. These phonemes are put together to form spoken words.

The phonological processing system’s main role is to analyse and manipulate sound structures of words. This means that you can hear the sounds of the words and convert them into letters on a page (spelling). You can also see letters on a page and convert them into something you can hear (reading).

Many dyslexics struggle to either split words they hear into separate sounds; for example, the word potato has three separate sounds: po-ta-to, or distinguish word sounds from one another; for example, finding it hard to tell the difference between probably and properly. Because of this they are more likely to struggle with reading and spelling.

The phonological processing system also plays a part in working memory (see blog: what was I going to say?). It tracks the information you hear, whether that be out loud or in your head, until it can be processed, organised, or put to use. However, if your working memory for what you hear is limited due to problems with phonological processing, then the words may fade away before your brain has finished processing them. This means that you will find it hard to follow meetings and verbal instructions, find it harder in a language based learning environment and have difficulty remembering phone messages.