Children's Awareness of the Spoken & Written Language Relationship

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

Print Awareness is an important element for young children associating writing and reading with spoken language. Understanding the symbolic nature of letters and words can add greatly to reading acquisition.

Spoken Language

We all know from experience that even very young children understand when we are speaking to them, and that the sounds they hear are intended to ''mean'' something. As parents and others talk to them in the daily environment of home and community, toddlers acquire spoken language as a natural by-product of wanting to know and communicate. All people have an innate desire to exchange spoken words for the purpose of getting things we want and avoiding things we don't want.

The Symbolic Nature of Reading and Writing

We might say that children are initiated into the idea of symbolic structure when they realize that one thing ''stands for'' another. This concept is a fundamental element of discussions about language for philosophers, linguists, and educators. Letters and words written on paper or on the computer screen are not the same as drawings or pictures. Strung together in a specific sequence, written language becomes communication. As we learn to read and write, we associate the way words ''look'' with the way they sound. This print awareness helps prepare children for reading and writing.

Print Awareness in Action
Gran Reading

Print Awareness in the Real World

Most toddlers who are on track developmentally with language acquisition can describe many things in their immediate environment. They can tell you what they want (and what they don't want), and even a simple version of something that happened in their experience. They probably also recognize pictures and symbols of common items in the home. When you get a snack item from the pantry and ask if the child would like a snack, he or she will likely say out loud the name of a favorite snack choice. Then you can point out the words on the package that ''stand for'' the spoken name.

Teaching Names of Common Items in Print
snack labels

For example, a small child may see the golden arches of McDonald's and associate that symbol with a Happy Meal even though he or she can't actually read the letters comprising the words on the sign. This is a perfect opportunity to draw the child's attention to the meaning of the words on the restaurant signs. If they want a Happy Meal, show them where that item is written on the menu.

Interesting street signs that feature both visual images and text give parents and other caregivers a chance to talk about how print text works: another example of encouraging print awareness. An unusual sign like this one is sure to get a small child's attention.

Pairing Words with Images
turtle crossing

Reading Cues

When an adult reads to a child from a book, there are some connections that can be pointed out casually during the process. For example, you might note the title of the book as the ''name'' of the story. Reading the author's name aloud and letting the child know that this is the person who created the story is another example. Then, as you begin the narrative, you might point out the first word in the story as the beginning, and say that you will continue until the end.

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