Language and Literacy
World Book Day is Thursday the 4th of March.
To celebrate World Book Day, we're thinking all about language and literacy. Language skills and reading skills go hand in hand. What sort of language skills have the biggest impact on reading?
- Oral language is an important precursor to literacy. Children need to have really secure skills in both understanding and use of spoken language before they start school. This means that they have a strong foundation on which to map reading and writing skills.
- Children with speech sound difficulties will often go on to have reading difficulties. This is because both require phonological awareness. This is a term which describes a child's ability to manipulate the sounds in words. For example, to read the word 'cat', you have to recognise that the letters 'c', 'a' and 't' correspond to three particular sounds, and you need to be able to blend those three sounds together to make the word which we hear as 'cat'. Children with Dyslexia will usually have difficulties with phonological awareness and with phonological working memory.
- A good vocabulary, or word knowledge is vital for children to make sense of what they read. They have to be able to map the sounds in 'cat' onto their knowledge of the animal in the real world. This is known as semantics.
- Pragmatic skills are also important. Pragmatics refers to how words are used appropriately in different situations. Children on the Autistic Spectrum for example, often have difficulties in this area. They may be able to decode well, but find it hard to figure out how the meaning of words and sentences change according to context.
When supporting a child's literacy, it is important to work on all three skills - phonological, semantic and pragmatic. How can we do this in practice? Here are some good places to start:
- Develop early language skills. The BBC's Tiny Happy People is a great example of how to do this well.
- Support phonological awareness skills. Apps like Reading Eggs are good for this. Any game you play with a child where you are thinking about the sounds or syllables in a word will help. Eye Spy is a great place to start!
- Support semantic skills. Read to children so they are exposed to lots of new words. Try to include a combination of fiction and non-fiction books to keep it varied. Watch their favourite tv shows with them so that they can tell you if they don't know any of the words and you can explain what they mean.
- Support pragmatic language skills. Talk to children about how everyone's language is different in different contexts. If you've ever watched the film Elf, you will see that a huge amount of humour comes from people saying the wrong things at the wrong time. Can your child explain why it is unusual for Buddy to behave the way he does?
Finally, if your child is finding reading to be a challenge, consider making a referral to your local speech and language therapy service. They will help you to unpick where their difficulties might lie and suggest targeted ways that you can help.