The Impact of Oral Language on Reading Development

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  • 0:00 Oral Language and Reading
  • 1:01 Oral Language Acquisition
  • 3:02 Impact on Reading Development
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Oral language skills are fundamentally connected to the ability to learn reading. In this lesson, explore the direct links between oral language and reading development, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Oral Language and Reading

If you are watching this video, I'm assuming a few things about you. One, you probably understand the English language well enough to comprehend what I'm saying. Two, you probably learned to read at some point. Good for you. Obviously, both speaking and reading are important parts of our daily lives, but these skills, like everything else we do, had to be learned. How did we learn them? Very often, we learn them together. Studies have shown, almost without exception, that oral language development is one of the biggest factors on learning to read. In fact, kindergarten students with lower oral language skills may have up to four to five times more difficulty learning to read than their peers. So, it's a big deal. Let's talk about it. Just remember that you're only able to do this because it's something you were once able to learn.

Oral Language Acquisition

Before we look at the impacts of oral language on reading, I think we should start by talking about oral language itself. Basically, oral language refers to the skills needed to properly communicate a spoken language. This is more than just talking. It means understanding the basics of phonology (sounds used within a language), vocabulary (words), grammar (construction of sentences), morphology (formation of words), pragmatics (proper use of language), and discourse (using language to communicate). Those are the six basic components of oral language. Now obviously, we don't expect children to be able to recognize when they are applying phonology versus morphology, but we do expect them to learn the basic sounds used in our language. We expect them to know when to say please and thank you, how to form words into a sentence to ask for something, and to be able to comprehend the things we say to them.

Oral language skills are important to have, and children are built to develop these naturally. They listen, observe, contextualize information, and experiment on their own from the time they are old enough to do so. However, some factors can drastically impact the ways that children learn oral language. For example, exposure to language greatly increases a child's oral language skills. No surprise there. Children who are exposed to wider vocabulary and different ideas tend to have an easier time learning oral language. This means, however, that economic status can influence a child's language development. Children from wealthier families may have a wider range of experiences, exposure to a greater number of people and events, and often have more highly-educated parents than children born to lower income families. I'm not saying that one group makes naturally better parents than the other, but this disparity is something educators should be aware of.

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