In its simplest terms, oral language is talking and understanding talk. In fancier terms oral language is a system made up of 5 critical components that people use to express and understand knowledge, feelings and ideas. Each of these 5 components have strong relationships with learning to read and write.
WHAT IS ORAL LANGUAGE?
Phonology refers to the sounds in a language. An individual sound is called a phoneme. You have to know what sounds are in your language before you can begin to match those sounds up with the letters that represent them. Things start to get tricky when two letters make one sound, like “ch” in “cheese” or “ou” in “out.” A student’s phonological skills play a foundational role in learning to read when we ask them to sound out the words.
Morphology refers to the smallest parts of a word that have meaning. If there were a recipe for morphology, it would call for a cup of vocabulary plus a tablespoon (or 2 or 3) of grammar. Take, for example, the word unpredictable. This word has three meaningful word parts:
1) Morpheme #1 (vocabulary) = predict (to tell about something in advance)
2) Morpheme #2 (grammar) = un (not)
3) Morpheme #3 (grammar) = able (can be done)
Understanding and learning to use morphemes help us decipher unknown words when reading, and build vocabulary throughout life.
This one should be familiar! You either love it or you hate it (we love it:), and it probably makes you think of writing. But knowing the rules for combining words into sentences (or sentences into paragraphs) begins with listening and speaking. Consider how a simple grammatical switcheroo can impact a conversation:
SUE: Did you see that boy with the red mohawk brush past the math teacher?
JOHN: Yes, I think that math test must’ve been really hard. He seemed upset.
SUE: Did you see that boy brush past the math teacher with the red mohawk?
JOHN: What?! Mr. Davis got a mohawk??
Pragmatics is the way we use language socially. If you’re good at using language in social situations, then you know that the words you choose when speaking to your teacher are different from the way you might phrase the same message to a friend. You also understand a bit about reading facial expressions and tone of voice. It’s quickly obvious to you when a friend has lost interest in what you’re talking about, or if you’re standing too close.
We can easily imagine how a kid who has strong pragmatic language is likely to have better relationships. But successfully navigating social interactions also impacts reading comprehension. Literature is rich with well-developed characters who love, disappoint, manipulate, and depend on one another. Developing a strong sense of pragmatics in your own real-life speaking and listening is a prerequisite for future understanding of books like To Kill a Mockingbird.
Discourse refers to the way we organize our thoughts to tell a story or explain how to do something. Think about the difference between telling the story of what happened to the birthday cake versus telling someone how to make a birthday cake:
Yesterday I was making a birthday cake for my sister, when I realized that I put in way too much sugar! So first, I tried…
To make a birthday cake, you will need sugar, flour, eggs, butter, baking soda, vanilla and milk. First, put your butter and eggs in a large bowl and blend…
We have these sort of internal templates for sharing and understanding all sorts of information! Eventually, we expect our kids to be able to write stories, persuasive essays, or a literary analysis comparing and contrasting Hamlet and McBeth. The problem is that some kids don’t fully understand these discourse structures in oral language. Kids must be able to tell and understand spoken discourse structures before they can comprehend them in reading, or even know where to begin to write them.