Understanding Oral Language

Our girls are starting to talk.

They seem to understand almost everything we say – they will follow simple directions like “take this to Mommy,” or “bring me your sock.”  When asked they will give a high 5 and they are delightful clappers!  It is so amazing to watch this blossoming of understanding.  They use a few sign language signs – for ‘more’ and ‘all done’, and of course ‘bye bye’.  They can say Mama, Dada, and Nana (hooray!) and every day they say a few more words.   They learn most of these new words when one of the adults who is absolutely crazy about them says the word slowly with exaggerated lip motions.  None of us even thinks about how silly we might look.  We repeat the word and point to the person or object – and when they approximate the sounds we usually clap and smile and say YES! as we repeat the word back to them.  It is so much fun!

So I was particularly interested when I came across some great information about oral language that I had saved from a workshop that I really valued.  I took a class called Playful Literacy and You, that helped me take a close look at different portions of literacy development.   I thought the information was presented so well that I became trained to present the workshop to other teachers.  On another post, under Parent Education, I printed some handouts that I prepared to share the information from this series of classes with parents.

Maybe we heard a lot of this information about oral language in college, but I found it really helpful when I wanted to talk about a child’s language abilities to a parent, or when I was trying to put my finger on exactly why a child was having trouble speaking.  So I decided to share some of the information from my presentation with you.  I hope some of you find this helpful.

One of the research studies that was quoted in this class was published as Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Lives of Children – by Risley and Hart.  It was really astounding to see the impact of low level language in the homes of children and compare that to children coming from homes that were rich in language experiences.  Knowing that, and knowing your community helps teachers understand how crucial it is for them to provide enriching experiences for their class, to do our best to help all children become successful.

This chart refers to the language in the home that the children are exposed to, not the amount of words produced by the child – I hope it wasn’t confusing.  It just shows the difference in parents who make the effort to talk to their child a lot.  Receptive language comes before expressive language – children who are hearing lots of talk have been shown to not only speak more themselves, but have much higher potential for success in school and beyond.  And this is not necessarily related to the family’s economic status.  In some affluent, large homes parents have installed intercom systems to call their children for dinner because they are off playing in a separate “wing” of the house.  Those children aren’t being exposed to nearly as much language as others who are playing in the kitchen and talking with Mom while she gets dinner ready.


Kids learn a lot from television, computer games and other children, but research shows clearly that the most effective way for children to develop language skills is through positive interactions with adults in a safe, comfortable environment.

I put some information in a chart form to give a basic idea about how language usually correlates with physical development.

development chart

Of course every child is unique and there is a wide range of exactly when children develop all these skills.

This information about the four areas of language explained terms that I often heard our speech and language teacher use.  Basically I knew what semantics, syntax and pragmatics meant, but this helped me understand it all better.  When a child was having language difficulty that went beyond articulation problems,  I found it helpful to be able to tell the speech teacher that I though his problem was his syntax, or whatever!

I really didn’t remember learning about this hierarchy of language in school, but it reminds me of  Bloom’s Taxonomy of higher level thinking skills, I think it correlates nicely.

This made me really think about the types of language I used with my Kindergartners.  So often we are giving directions, or reminding children of rules, or telling them what to do.  It really made me aware of ways I could use higher levels of language every day.

We also discussed the back and forth, 2 way nature of conversations.

This chart gives some ideas for scaffolding the children to the next level of conversation.


I hope some of you find this helpful, I think I’ll go talk to my grandchildren!

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Sentences: Part 1 of 3: Structure, Processing, Function | Dialogue About Language, Literacy and Learning
  2. Trackback: Oral Languge Development: Sentences | Dialogue About Language, Literacy and Learning
  3. Trackback: Bloom's Taxonomy Chart | qmsdnug.org
  4. Trackback: Speech And Language Development Chart | qmsdnug.org

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