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Language Skills that Underlie School Success


“It is a fact that school-age children with language problems are typically not proficient readers and writers, and frequently experience problems in reading and comprehension,” says Sharon Collins, M.S., C.C.C.-S/LP, C.O.M., owner and director of the Cincinnati Center for Improved Communication.

Language is the basis of communication and learning takes place through the process of communication. Receptively, a child’s ability to repeat sentences and recall stories, identify letters and their sounds, match, delete or blend sounds and rapidly name items and objects are important skills for understanding and processing language. These skills predict a child’s status as reading disabled or not reading disabled with 90 percent accuracy.

Expressively, a child’s knowledge of vocabulary, grammar and word parts and relationships are linked to reading skill development, and are as important as phonological skills. Oral language skills contribute to vocabulary development and reading comprehension skills. Children who perform well on sound awareness tasks become successful readers and writers, while children who struggle with such tasks often do not. With regard to reading and writing, children who exhibit poor articulation might demonstrate poor comprehension due to mispronouncing words and will spell like they speak.

According to Collins, early warning signs of potential difficulty include persistent baby talk, absence of interest in nursery rhymes and shared book reading, difficulty understanding simple directions, difficulty learning or remembering names of letters and failure to recognize or identify letters in the child’s own name.

Dyslexia is the most common type of language-based learning difficulty, affecting up to 20 percent of the population. Signs of possible dyslexia in preschool children include difficulty identifying and manipulating sounds in words, reading single words, generating rhyming words, identifying syllables and reversing letters and words. Early intervention is critical since these types of difficulties are persistent and often affect the child’s further language and literacy learning throughout the school years.

However, notes Collins, intervention is not confined to young children. Older children, particularly those with speech and language impairments, could require intervention aimed at establishing and strengthening skills that are essential to learning to read and write. At about the fourth-grade level, a child encounters a difference in the style and complexity of language of instruction that continues to increase throughout subsequent grades. For middle school and high school students, their language-based difficulties can manifest themselves in poor grades. These students typically experience difficulty distinguishing important from unimportant information – a key skill for effective note taking. Weaknesses in knowing how to organize information meaningfully result in written language difficulties. Contextual vocabulary skills can be compromised by a student’s limited range of background experiences. Test preparation and integration of information are often affected by a student’s difficulties in remembering large quantities of information and analyzing information to problem solve.

A student who exhibits language-based learning deficits may experience significant difficulty not only with listening and reading comprehension and speaking and writing, but also with higher level meta-linguistic and meta-cognitive skills. These skills include prediction, problem solving, analysis of language, inference, abstraction and logical reasoning. Executive function processes can also be affected, which result in weaker skills for planning and organization, initiating and maintaining attention to task, self-monitoring and self-regulation, and integrating feedback.

So, what’s a parent to do?

“It is important for parents to remember that children learn to understand, talk, read and write at different times,” Collins says. “However, if, at any age, a parent suspects that his or her child is not performing at expected levels for chronological age and or grade level, consultation with a speech-language pathologist is a first step in identifying the issues.”


The Cincinnati Center for Improved Communication, Inc., is located at 4440 Carver Woods Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45242. For more information, call 513.771.7655 or visit www.ccicinc.com.