How oral language skills impact reading development

In this post we will discuss how poor oral language skills can cause word reading difficulties. We will discuss two oral language skills specifically: phonological processing and vocabulary knowledge. Oral language skills also cause reading comprehension problems. We discuss this in another post.

Word reading and oral language skills: 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. (Read our blog on how to help your child when they are struggling with phonics).

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 oral language skills: 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.

Learn more about how we can give your child the right support in phonics, reading and writing.

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