Oral Langage and Reading

Not all reading struggles are dyslexia. As the most talked about reading disability, it’s probably the one you’ve heard of. But reading is complicated. There are lots of discrete skills to master before you are a strong reader.

Let’s break it down.

First, there are phonemic and phonological skills, or understanding sound/symbol relationships. This means knowing that there are 5 letters in the word “throw”, but only 3 sounds. It’s also knowing that the “g” in “good” sounds different than the “g” in “stage.” If your child struggles in this area of reading, you may have heard this referred to as a problem with decoding. An Academic Language Therapist trained in a phonics-based technique of teaching reading may help with this!

Once you are a good word decoder, there’s the challenge of understanding what you’ve read…reading comprehension. There’s so much that goes into reading comprehension, but for starters you’ve got to have some vocabulary knowledge and a little working memory. You may notice that your child can easily recall factual information from what’s been read, but has difficulty making inferences or drawing conclusions. Or maybe your child struggles so much with word meanings that they have trouble tying information together. If this sounds like your child, enlisting the help of a Speech-Language Pathologist may be in order. (Yes, you read that right. An SLP can help with the underlying oral language skills that support reading comprehension!)

So let’s say you can decode and you can comprehend, but can you read fluently? What does that mean?! A fluent reader can read with adequate speed, accuracy, and expression. Sometimes fluency is slow because decoding skills are weak. (It’s all a very tangled reading ability web!) Other times fluency is weak because of a weak vocabulary or a weak understanding of sentence structures or punctuation. Reading fluency can even be influenced by trouble with attention. An Educational Diagnostician can be a good place to start if you aren’t sure where exactly your child’s reading struggles lie.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) keeps tabs on how we are doing as a country in teaching our children to read. The NAEP assessment in reading is given every two years to students in 4th and 8th grades, and every four years at grade 12.

In the most recent survey, only 35% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders performed at or above the proficient level in reading comprehension. Consider this: In the United States, only 1 in 4 children with basic reading skills in 3rd grade graduated high school by the age of 19. The stakes are unbelievably high. There is much to lose if you aren’t a proficient reader.

What do we do??

Well, we propose that we start at the beginning. (And not just us, by the way. There’s PLENTY of research to back our claim.) Reading disabilities are a language based problem. You want kids to learn word meanings? Ask your child to define words by telling you what category it’s in, plus a detail…a dog is a pet that barks. You want kids to draw inferences from text? Have them listen to a story and draw a conclusion.

This goes back to the whole ‘we crawl before we walk’ metaphor. You must have some mastery of understanding vocabulary, sentence structure, and inference when listening to something BEFORE you can do any of these things when reading.

If you want to build strong reading comprehension skills in your child, then build your child’s vocabulary, grammar, and inference skills in oral language. If you need cool, fun games and ways to do this at home, we’ve got you covered. Check out our On-the-Go Games for Literacy, our Conversation Mysteries or our Retell Rulers!