Oral language is one of the most important skills needed in your child’s everyday life. Children use this skill every day to make requests, interact with peers, ask questions, and engage in conversation. As a parent, teacher, or therapist, there are many things you can implement to foster the development of strong oral language skills of your child. In this blog post, we will discuss the definition of oral language, the five key components of oral language development, and oral language development activities,
Firstly, oral language is defined as the system through which we use spoken words to express knowledge, ideas, and feelings (Moats, 2010). Essentially, developing oral language directly corresponds to reading comprehension and writing abilities. According to Moats 2010, oral language is made up of at least 5 different components such as phonological skills, pragmatics, syntax, morphological skills, and vocabulary (i.e., semantics). All of these five components play a necessary role in teaching your child to communicate and learn through spoken conversations. However, there are distinctions among each component that have implications for literacy skills as well.
Phonological skills refer to an individual’s awareness of the phonological structure (i.e., sound system) of language. Furthermore, phonological skills assist children in better understanding how letter patterns represent words in print. There are many different levels to phonological awareness in which children can be taught at each level including rhyming, blending, segmenting, manipulating, and counting.
Phonological awareness is one of the most important and reliable factors for predicting later literacy outcomes in children.
Syntax is defined as the understanding of word order and grammatical rules (Cain 2007; Nation and Snowling 2000). Knowing a language involves the ability to formulate phrases and sentences from smaller units such as morphemes and words. Essentially, it defines the rules that need to be followed when constructing a sentence from words, clauses, punctuation, and phrases.
Morphology refers to the smallest meaningful parts from which words are created, including roots, suffixes, and prefixes (Carlisle 2000; Deacon and Kirby 2004). Morphemes are an essential part of learning phonics in both reading and writing. In English, a morpheme is a meaningful linguistic unit consisting of a word such as “cat”, or a word element, such as the -s at the end of cats, in which it cannot be broken down into smaller meaningful units.
Pragmatics refers to an understanding of the social rules of communication (Snow and Uccelli 2009). This involves what people say, the way it is said, and our body language when saying it. To be more exact, it is the study of the practical aspects of human thought and action. Pragmatic skills involve verbal communication, non-verbal communication, listening skills, and societal norms. This is an essential skill for using language in a variety of contexts as well as to engage in conversations.
The last component of oral language is semantics. Semantics involves understanding the meaning of words and phrases (also referred to as receptive language). Additionally, producing words and phrases to communicate efficiently (also referred to as expressive language). Semantics plays a crucial role in the development of oral language as well as using print to communicate.
Children are constantly absorbing the language spoken around them and experiences to comprehend the events occurring in their lives.
One of the ways to promote oral language in children is to engage in language-rich conversations. Try to engage in more back and forth conversation with your child to make it open-ended. Engaging in conversations that are active and involve back-and forth with you and your child teaches them how to take turns actively listening and speaking. This shows your child that you prioritise their thoughts and ideas.
Asking your child open-ended questions such as “why do you think that happened?”, “what do you want to do next?”, or “how can we fix this?” allows them to use language consisting of more complexity in comparison to answering a simple yes/no question. Furthermore, it helps your child develop the necessary critical thinking skills to create their own ideas and engage in conversational dialogue. This will help your child formulate phrases and sentences of increasingly complex grammatical structures.
Shared book reading is another fantastic strategy for expanding your child’s vocabulary. One way to engage in a consistent practice of book reading with your child is to pick a certain time of day and/or routine to read together. Once this becomes a consistent activity you engage in, it helps your child learn new topics about the world around them and form connections between their own lives and what they are reading. Additionally, it helps your child learn new vocabulary terms and increase their print knowledge. Lastly, it is a wonderful way to share the experience of reading with your little one.
After engaging in active reading activities, one of the best ways to target reading comprehension is to ask your child to summarise what occurred in the story. You can help your child by providing verbal prompts or asking a question to help your child include more details. Additionally, ask your child different “WH” questions such as “what was your favorite part?”, “who was your favorite character?”, “where does the story take place?”, etc. This will help your child develop better reading comprehension skills and critical thinking skills.
Lastly, another strategy to improve oral language is by modeling sentence construction. Some individuals struggle with starting a sentence due to word retrieval difficulties. By modeling the beginning word or phrase for the child, it can help them formulate the correct sentence structure.
Additionally, ensure you are providing ample time for an individual to auditorily process information and execute a verbal or written response. Some individuals require a processing time anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes! Children’s experiences in learning to produce their own oral language and processing others’ language around them will help support comprehension of reading material.
In conclusion, oral language is an essential component to a child’s ability to communicate, read, and write. Furthermore, explicit instruction to support oral language can lead to better academic outcomes. It is important to foster a welcoming learning environment for children as well as provide accessible activities. Try some of the strategies listed in this blog post to support your child’s oral language development!
Sydney relocated from Florida to make Denver her new home. As a young child, she herself had a language delay inspiring her to help others communicate. She has come full circle as a paediatric SLP!