The Relationship Between Speaking & Reading

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Oral language plays an important role in the development of literacy skills. In this lesson, we will discuss the relationship between speaking, listening and reading development in children. We will also discuss oral language activities which strengthen literacy skills.

Early Literacy

Educators and parents understand the importance of fostering early literacy skills, or knowledge and practices related to reading and writing. They know that building early literacy leads to academic success. In other words, when children begin literacy development early, they are more likely to have strong reading and writing skills, readily acquire new knowledge, graduate from school and find success after graduation. What are the important aspects of early literacy?

Research tells us that children who have little or no exposure to important aspects of early literacy are more likely to have issues with reading and writing development. Oral language development, developing skills for using and understanding the spoken word, are necessary for school success.

Speaking, Listening and Literacy

Katherine and Anthony are parents of a young child, Aiden. They've been told by the staff of their son's preschool that Aiden has shown signs of delayed speech development. Why is this important? At home, Aiden is able to communicate his thoughts verbally and seems to understand when his parents talk to him. Sure, he seems to have a smaller oral language vocabulary, or range of words that he speaks, compared to his peers. However, they're both busy professionals and aren't always available to spend time talking with him. Why does this matter?

The teachers let Aiden's parents know that early literacy skills, specifically developing oral language vocabulary and listening comprehension, or the ability to understand when others speak, lays the foundation for his literacy development in later years. They present research showing that when children develop these skills, they gain an understanding of aspects of reading and writing including phonological awareness, or the understanding of how sounds come together to create words.

Benefits of Oral Language Development

Aiden's parents appreciate the help their son's teachers gave them. Later, after Aiden is tucked into bed, they research oral language development for themselves and find a few pieces of strong evidence that confirm what the preschool staff told them:

  • Children raised in vocabulary rich households do better in school.
  • Children exposed to sophisticated vocabulary, or words used less frequently in common speech, acquire a stronger working vocabulary.
  • Children with larger oral language vocabularies are often stronger readers.

Katherine and Anthony knew spending quality time with Aiden was important but they weren't aware how necessary oral language development was to literacy. They now know that young children who are raised in homes with rich speaking lives are more successful in school and throughout their lifetimes. The more complex their conversations with Aiden, the stronger his vocabulary and comprehension will be with written language.

Oral Language Development and Early Reading

Many parents, like Katherine and Anthony, think reading and writing instruction begins when their child goes to school and learns the alphabet. In fact, literacy development begins in infancy and continues throughout life. The early experiences of children have a tremendous impact on their ability to use and understand verbal and written language. Oral language and literacy development are intertwined.

We can think of this relationship in two ways:

  1. Phonological skills, like rhyming, counting syllables, and awareness of phonemes, or the smallest sounds in speech, are necessary for emergent readers. When learning to decode print, they will need a clear understanding of letter/sound relationships. If Aiden is learning to read the word 'cat', he needs to recognize there are three separate sounds, c/a/t. His oral language awareness helps him make important associations he needs to read.
  2. Vocabulary development is necessary for comprehension. Imagine Aiden is reading about pirates. When decoding, he needs to combine letter sounds to create words. He may be able to decode the word 'treasure' correctly, but if he isn't familiar with the term, it may sound like another word or have no meaning to him. Children with strong oral vocabulary skills are more likely to develop strong reading comprehension skills.

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