Oral language is vital

July 14, 2013

oral-language-primary-school‘What I do I can say
What I say can be written down
What is written down can be read.’A simple saying, that highlights an often neglected aspect of the curriculum, from early years to senior years–the development of oral language competence. 

Learning to read is fundamentally a linguistic task, drawing heavily on a child’s receptive language skills, narrative, vocabulary, phonological and other abilities.[1] Snow, P. S., Language competence: A hidden disability in antisocial behaviour. InPsych. The bulletin of The Australian Psychological Society … Continue reading Along with learning to read successfully, oral language competence is critical to the achievement of important student learning outcomes across the broader curriculum.  In recent years the heavy focus on reading and writing in the daily literacy block and throughout the day may, in some schools, have overshadowed the critical role oral language plays in facilitating reading comprehension, and the development of effective social skills and appropriate behaviour.

Oral language competence includes the ability to convey meaning using words (expressive language) and to understand the meaning of what others say (receptive language). Word knowledge, and readiness for successful reading are heavily dependent on early and ongoing exposure to literacy and rich oral language and experiences, both at home and at school. Children who enter school with poorly developed oral language skills will be at an immediate disadvantage compared with linguistically competent peers. This has implications not only for learning, but will often lead to problems related to inappropriate behaviour.  For older children, the ability to express oneself clearly, succinctly, confidently and convincingly is crucial if they are to actively engage with classroom programs, and significantly if they are to develop and maintain successful, positive peer relationships.

Many psychologists and speech pathologists point out the importance of oral language not just for the acquisition of reading and writing, but for the skills that allow us to negotiate our way through each day including being able to follow instructions, use interpersonal skills, and appropriate social interactions and behaviours. In fact, it appears that children with poorly developed language skills are more likely to display challenging behaviours and are at risk of future mental health issues. [2] Snow, P. S., Language competence: A hidden disability in antisocial behaviour. InPsych. The bulletin of The Australian Psychological Society … Continue reading

Alarmingly a substantial number (one third) of boys referred by primary schools for psychological services due to challenging behaviours had significant but previously unsuspected oral language deficits[3] Cohen, N., Davine, M. , Horodezky, N., Lipsett, L. & Isaacson, L. (1993). Unsuspected language impairment in psychiatrically disturbed … Continue reading, and approximately 50% of young male offenders had significant undiagnosed language impairments[4] Snow, P. C. & Powell, M. B. (2011a). Youth (In)justice: Oral language competence in early life and risk for engagement in antisocial behaviour … Continue reading. Thus, teachers, psychologists and others involved in promoting student learning and wellbeing should not only consider the adequacy of the language skills of a child who has difficulty with literacy but also children who display behavioural problems.

Who are the students you teach or encounter daily or weekly, due to behavioural issues who require regular, structured support in order to build their oral language competence and confidence?

How can you promote rich language experiences and vocabulary development to help improve oral language competence for each one of your students? For practical ideas to help promote oral language in the classroom the Working with children who lack confidence speaking publicly ebooklet is now available to Psych4Schools members. 

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Zoe Ganim and Murray Evely, Psych4Schools Psychologists