Taking the position that oral language development is the beginning of learning to read, I’d like to outline my current perspective of what early language development entails and how it interacts with learning to read.

 I bring three perspectives:  a personal one as a mother of 3 and grandmother of 6, an academic perspective as a consumer of language and literacy research (incorporated into my favorite course to teach–Language and Learning), and as a practitioner, working in schools and clinics with children and as a mentor to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as an observer, researcher, and collaborator with classroom teachers.

 Personally I have watched with awe as my own three children (a boy and twin girls—lucky me!) learned language and communication skills on a daily basis—from infancy.  Equally awesome was watching my six grandchildren—lucky me! (one boy and five girls, currently ages 3 to 10) learn oral language and communication skills. Part of the watching of my grand- children occurred as I spent time with them on a weekly basis in their preschool.  Most recently I have observed (again, with awe) as Luc, age 3, carries on very engaging conversations about everything in his life, including his most treasured Curious George stories, which he can repeat, without request or teaching, almost word for word.  I have also been keenly aware as my older grandchildren “learned to read” as they moved from Kindergarten to 4th Grade.

 As a teacher I worked from a framework developed by Clarke and Clarke, addressing both oral and written language at the sound, word, sentence, and discourse levels in relation to structure, process, and function of those 4 units of language.

 As an observer/collaborator with classroom teachers, most recently I have partnered with a gifted Kindergarten teacher who believes and demonstrates that every child can become a successful reader.

 Below is research that highlights that importance of oral language as a basis for learning to read.


Infant Studies

 Studies of the youngest “learners” show that even at the beginning of life infants can discriminate sounds




Birth to Age Four

 Elizabeth Crawford-Brooke, slp, Ph.D. describes the types of oral language skills (phonology, vocabulary (semantics), syntax (grammar), morphology, pragmatics, and discourse) children normally develop by age 4 and how that development impacts learning to read: The Critical Role of Oral Language in Reading for Title I Students and English Language Learners


A study by Stanford researchers suggests that a language gap begins as early as 18 months.  http://www.scpr.org/blogs/education/2013/11/13/15168/new-research-language-gap-in-children-starts-at-18/

 In that posting, the author references earlier research by Hart and Risley addressing a language gap by age 3.http://www.unitedwayracine.org/sites/default/files/imce/files/SOH%20The%20Early%20Catastrophe%20-%20The%2030%20Million%20Word%20Gap%20by%20Age%203%20-%20Risley%20and%20Hart%20-%20summary.pdf

Birth Through Grade 12

Casey Foundation First 8 Years



Loban study K-12th Grade

In a highly respected but older study (1976 by NCTE), William Loban traced the language/literacy development of the same 211 children from K through 12th grade.  He documented the relationship between the oral language skills children brought to Kindergarten and their subsequent language/literacy development, showing that children who were behind in language development upon entering school remained behind as they progressed through school.

Not Just About “Speaking”

Timothy Shanahan and Christopher Lonigan explore the connection between early oral language development and later reading comprehension success


                                “Supporting young children’s language and literacy development has long been considered a practice that yields strong readers and writers later in life. The results of the National Early Literacy Panel’s (NELP) six years of scientific   research synthesis supports the practice and its role in language development among children ages zero to five.

                                The NELP was brought together in 2002 to compile research that would contribute to educational policy and practice decisions that impact early literacy development. It   was also charged with determining how teachers and families could support young children’s language and literacy development. Outcomes found in the panel’s report (2008) would be used in the creation of literacy-specific materials for parents, teachers, and staff development for early childhood educators and family-literacy practitioners.”

Listening Comprehension: A Precursor of Reading Comprehension

http://blog.readingglue.com/post/57431553005/listening-comprehension-a-precursor-of-reading .  The author says “Strong links exist between a child’s ability to comprehend spoken language and her ability to comprehend written language.  ”Studies on children’s reading comprehension show that the most powerful predictor of reading comprehension is not decoding accuracy or reading speed, but listening comprehension, the ability to understand what someone says” (McGuinness, 2004).  Parents can promote their children’s listening comprehension by……


Language Development and Learning to Read at Home and in Preschool

Preschool plays as important role, according to David Dickinson, based on research, co-authored by Michelle Porche of Wellesley College


The quality of the verbal interactions in preschool (and beyond) can enhance both language development and literacy according to a report by Jennifer Wetzel (Posted on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011) on the research of David Dickinson, education professor at Peabody College.  According to the article “The findings, published in Child Developmentand included in a review article in the August 19, 2011 edition of Science, present evidence that there are lasting, complex and mutually reinforcing effects that flow from strong early childhood classrooms….Preschool teachers’ use of sophisticated vocabulary and analytic talk about books, combined with early support for literacy in the home, can predict fourth-grade reading comprehension and word recognition, new research from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College finds.

And so?  So, if we know the importance of oral language and its development (or lack of development) in home and preschool settings, how can we engage and support parents and preschool teachers as they “teach” oral language skills and relate them to reading, beginning in infancy and extended through preschool and the primary grades?