The Phonological Route: What You Should Know

The two key routes that allow learning to read are the lexical and the phonological. The latter is the one related to graphemes, phonemes and their interpretation.
The Phonological Route: What You Should Know
Pedro González Núñez

Reviewed and approved by the child educator Pedro González Núñez.

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Reading allows us to travel to imaginary worlds where it’s possible to dream and enjoy on another level. Our brain is the organ involved in this magic, and it’s believed that there are two distinct ways that allow us to read: The phonological route and the lexical route.

Next, we’re going to get to know the phonological route in-depth, without neglecting or overlooking the lexical route. Although the first isn’t as well known as the second, it’s the one that allows us to learn new words and other essential elements for reading. Keep reading to find out what it’s all about.

What is the phonological route?

A woman helping a little girl to recognize letters.

In the well-known double path model, the phonological pathway is the one used to convert graphemes into phonemes. In other words, it’s the resource that our brain uses to identify a letter and assign it a certain sound.

When we recode the phoneme we read in the form of a grapheme, the concept of the written word is formed.

The phonological route is the first one we use to read any language, be it English, Spanish, or Chinese. For this reason, for children who are learning to read and write, it’s more convenient to first catch the sounds of the letters separately and then, learn to interpret them when they see them together. In this way, sounds are dissected and decoded.

But this route isn’t exclusive to formal learning environments. Rather, it’s used every time we discover an unknown word. First, we interpret each of its sounds, and then we assign the meaning and contextualize it.

The phases

The main characteristic of the phonological route is the identification of the letters in order to later understand the words that are formed with them. Eventually, this is transformed into sounds recognizable by the ear and interpreted by the brain.

Throughout the process, working memory (MDT) is used, as the words that are spoken are stored in a component called the phonological loop. The latter is in charge of the temporary preservation of the material that was verbalized and subsequently encoded. For this to be carried out, we go through the following phases:

  1. Visual analysis: Words aren’t analyzed globally, but the individual focuses on each letter and each syllable. For this reason, initial processing is slower.
  2. Identification: Once the letters have been analyzed, the word is composed and identified.
  3. Phoneme assignment: The articulation and assignment of phonemes imply that the rules for converting the grapheme into phoneme have to be applied, and then we proceed to a correct articulation of it. That is, transforming a symbol into a pronounceable sound.
  4. Auditory analysis: If we carry out an auditory analysis of the stimuli we receive, we can understand how the set of phonemes is pronounced globally.
  5. Comprehension: Next, you need to fully understand the meaning of the word. This occurs after being spoken and listened to, which allows us to access the stores of our memory (mainly, the semantic system) to understand it.

Possible difficulties

Sometimes there are certain difficulties in understanding the word we hear. The fact is that not all people can apply the rule of grapheme and phoneme for reading comprehension.

As an example, we’ll mention some situations that warn us of a possible challenge in this learning:

  • Excessive tracking of each letter with your finger or with a pointer (such as a pencil).
  • Inadequate intonation and pronunciation.
  • Reading that highlights the stressed syllable where it doesn’t correspond.
  • Lack of reading comprehension or directly, none at all.
  • Not age-appropriate reading, both organic and school.
  • Segmentation of words in syllables or even in letters.
  • Excessive syllabification.
  • A reading rate that’s too slow.
A child reading a book with pages that give off light and floating letters.

The phonological route, a vital element in learning to read

Learning to read and doing it in a common way implies the constant use of the phonological route. And with this basic information that we’ve given you, you already have everything you need to know about it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.