We ask whether the relationship between phonological awareness and learning to read is mediated by two other factors: familiarity with written language; impaired phonological skills. Twenty children with typical phonological development and nine subjects with phonological delay were first evaluated using a range of cognitive and language tasks. They were then tested again with a word reading task at their fourth month of first grade. Our results show that phonological awareness does facilitate reading, but is a weaker predictor compared to comprehension of the alphabetic structure of the writing system and ability to coordinate symbol recognition and visual scanning. Phonological delay predicts low phonological awareness, but poor readers are only slightly more frequent in the phonologically delayed group.