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What has a Speech Pathologist got to do with literacy development?


Strong oral language skills are critical for academic success and provide a solid foundation for the development of key literacy skills related to learning how to read and write.

There are two broad types of oral language skills i.e. receptive language (listening and reading) and expressive language (speaking and writing).

These oral language skills develop along a continuum as demonstrated in the infographic below with receptive and expressive language skills being the foundational framework for the development of later developing and more complex abilities such as reading and writing.

Difficulty with learning how to read and/or write can involve any one and/or more of the critical components of language development such as;

1. Phonology

Which refers to the knowledge of the speech sound system. This also includes phonemic awareness and phonological awareness (critical for literacy development).

2. Morphology

This is knowledge of the parts of words that carry meaning i.e. knowing the 'ed' at the end of a word like 'shopped' means something that happened in the past. This is important for literacy development as children need to understand the meaning of prefixes, suffixes, and root words to enhance their comprehension of a text being read.

3. Syntax

Refers to knowledge of sentence structure i.e. how words go together in a way that makes sense. It includes knowing the different parts of speech such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions and understanding how to put them together in a way that makes sense i.e. 'the delightful boy swam gracefully.' This helps children to maintain meaning as they read while it also helps them to formulate structurally correct sentences for writing.

4. Semantics

The meaning of words (vocabulary). Knowledge of this oral language skill assists children in comprehending the meaning of the text that they are reading while it also helps them to draw on an extensive vocabulary during the writing process to produce text that is rich in language.

5. Pragmatics

The rules associated with the use of language in conversation.These skills are particularly important during the writing process when children are required to write for a particular audience and use social language that would be specific to that particular audience.

For children to become successful in literacy, they require structured, systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, semantics, morphological development, orthographic knowledge, fluency and comprehension.

Speech Pathologists are well trained in each of the above areas of language development. They have a wealth of knowledge relating to how children acquire these skills developmentally and also have a thorough understanding on how to provide evidenced based and structured intervention to support further development of these skills.

We know that using just one 'program' for children with literacy difficulties assumes a 'one size fits all' approach and can have significant limitations on child's progression throughout the intervention process. As a result, our Speech Pathologists use their knowledge to draw on a range of different evidenced based instructional strategies that support the development of children's literacy skills.

We hope you enjoyed the read.

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