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  • Brittany Zucker

Language & Literacy - What's the Connection?

As a certified and licensed Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), I often get a puzzled look when I mention that I spend a lot of my time teaching children how to read. However, language and literacy are tightly connected and the role of an SLP is extremely important to this process.


The Definitions:

Literacy refers to pre-reading skills (i.e., phonological awareness), reading skills (i.e., word recognition, decoding, comprehension) and writing skills (i.e., spelling, grammar, syntax).

Language is the way we communicate our thoughts and feelings to one another. Language skills can be separated in to spoken language (talking and listening) and written language (reading and writing). Spoken language provides the foundation for the development of written language. These two systems actually have a reciprocal relationship once a child enters school - children who have spoken language weaknesses will likely have difficulty learning to read and write, and children who struggle with reading and writing frequently have difficulty with spoken language.


SLPs and Literacy

As an SLP, I have extensive knowledge about language development and its subsystems – phonology (the sound structure of our language), morphology (the structure and word parts such as prefixes and root words), syntax (the structure of sentences), semantics (vocabulary), discourse (narrative skills) and well as pragmatics. This knowledge is crucial for preliteracy, reading and writing skills.


Language and Pre-Literacy – birth to 3

Language development begins at birth. The first 3 years of your child’s life are critical for language development. During these years you’ll see your child’s spoken language grow as they begin to understand questions, learn new vocabulary, string words together to form sentences, and eventually engage in conversation. As with spoken language, literacy skills are also grounded in these early experiences. In fact, literacy begins well before your child learns to read – when you talk, play, sing or read to your child you are facilitating early literacy development by strengthening vocabulary, grammar, syntax and the sound and structures of our language system (phonological awareness.) These pre-literacy skills will influence your child’s later success in reading, writing and speaking.


Language and Reading & Writing – preschool and school age

In preschool, children must begin to tune into and strengthen their phonology subsystem of language. As they enter elementary school, they begin to understand that words can be broken up into smaller word parts, or sounds, and they must recognize letters, match letters to their sounds, and be aware of and be able to manipulate sounds in words. These skills are imperative for learning how to decode. Children must then use this knowledge to encode, or spell, words to create their own grammatically and syntactically correct sentences. Additionally, children need to be able to interpret the meaning of printed text, which is called comprehension.


That was a lot, let’s sum it up -

Research shows that language and literacy are intertwined. Children who enter school with poor listening, speaking and/or phonological skills will likely have difficulty learning to read and write. Speech and Language Pathologists have extensive knowledge about language and language development, which makes them highly equipped to provide spoken (listening and speaking) AND written (reading and writing) language intervention.


Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns about your child's language and literacy development.


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