Reading can be separated into two domains: word reading and reading comprehension. This first post of two will discuss how word reading skills depend on the development of oral language skills, specifically phonological processing and vocabulary knowledge.
Word reading, phonological awareness and decoding
Phonological awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate the sounds of language at sentence, word, syllable and phoneme (individual sound) level. Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate the individual sounds of a word. Isolating, blending, segmenting and rearranging sounds in words all rely on strong phonemic awareness skills.
Decoding involves recalling the sound that represents each letter and blending them together to form a word.
These two skills are critical for word reading new, unfamiliar words.
Word reading and vocabulary knowledge
There is a positive relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading skills. Previously encountered words form one’s vocabulary, and these words are then recognised quicker (i.e. by sight rather than sounding out) during subsequent readings. The relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading skills is reciprocal: the more time spent reading, the more words you encounter and the more your vocabulary grows. The bigger your vocabulary, the easier it is to read fluently and efficiently.
What does this mean from a practical perspective?
For children with literacy difficulties, identifying oral language and literacy skill strengths and weaknesses is imperative in order to establish the cause of the difficulty and determine the best path forward in terms of remediation.
At a general level, interventions for word reading difficulties are more effective in facilitating reading acquisition if they include vocabulary development, phonological skill development, phonemic awareness learning, and systematic and explicit phonics teaching.
What is phonics?
Phonics instruction involves teaching the letter-sound rule system and reading by decoding. Phonics teaching approaches have been consistently associated with increased word reading attainment for typically developing and struggling readers. For phonics instruction to have a lasting impact on reading ability, it is crucial that teaching is systematic, comprehensive and explicit.
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