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This week we focus on Oral Language and its importance to all areas of learning. We also explore the impact digital devices can have on its development, particularly in our younger children.

Literacy Focus – Oral Language

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Effective oral language skills in children are essential for them to become confident communicators in the world they live in.

Oral language is used to; share information, organise and plan, build knowledge, develop understandings, express ideas, build relationships, manage social interactions and express our identity.

Oral language skills are complementary and of equal importance. They underpin all learning and are the foundation for successful social interactions.

There is plenty of evidence to show that articulate people have distinct advantages. Therefore, it is essential to develop the ability to communicate effectively.

The table below shows the significance of oral language and learning.


Why do we need to talk with our children?

Talking is a thinking tool – it is the best way to think about solving problems and to developing a child’s imagination. Therefore, it is important to take the time to talk with your child so that you can become partners in their learning.

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Research is telling us that children get less frustrated if they are able to express their emotions or questions or opinions through language. Children who are articulate are usually able to make friendships more easily.

Talking to children supports both listening and speaking skills.  It is well documented that when parents and family members provide young children with rich language experiences in any language, children are more likely to learn to read and develop comprehension skills more easily.

Parents and family members can do a lot to support oral language skills. Talking with your children can increase both academic and social development.

Children will talk more if we. . .

  • Wait a few seconds before we reply to what they say.
  • Look at their faces
  • Show you are listening
  • Talk about what they want to talk about
  • Talk about what they are doing
  • Use new words (excursion, expedition)
  • Repeat new words often
  • Avoid interrupting them

How you can help at home

Table 2

  • Talk about interesting words – have a word jar. Take out a word that you can discuss as a family
  • Have conversations every day – taking turns to talk, listen and respond to each other. Talk about the day’s events – tell me about your day?
  • Deliberately teach words and word meanings (e.g., “The sign says ‘Caution.’ That means we need to be careful.”)
  • Answer children’s questions, particularly those about why and how the world is.
  • Build on what children say (e.g., “Yes. That is an airplane. The airplane is flying across the sky.”)
  • Model how to use language correctly; children are excellent mimics and will copy the way you speak and what language you use, therefore modelling good speaking habits is an important job. (eg. ‘You did really well’…..rather than….. ‘You done good’).
  • Ask questions that help toddlers provide explanations (e.g., “How did you get……? What does it look like?)
  • Encourage imaginary play and introduce words not used in everyday experiences (e.g., “Let’s blast off to the moon? Get ready for the countdown . . . 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . Blast off!”)
  • Read (and re-read) books. Discuss the book’s pictures, key events, etc. Encourage positive early reading experiences using audiotapes, videos, reading buddies, lap reading, and with a print rich home environment. A love of books helps to make the on-going effort of learning to read fun and worthwhile, even for children who struggle to master its skills.

Research tells us that; children who have strong oral language skills often have strong reading and writing skills. In contrast, children with oral language problems are at higher risk of reading and writing difficulties.

Finally a note things digital …



As our world changes we are communicating more and more frequently through digital means. We know these devices are an integral part of life now and they provide instant access to content. Social networks open new ways to communicate and they are here to stay.


Experts are beginning to question whether young children are having the conversations with adults that need to happen when their parents are often engaged with their device and not their child.

The concern is that parent’s smartphone habits may actually be putting their children’s language development on the back foot. Check out any local playground and see the phones in use.

An article in ‘The New Zealand Herald’ on Tuesday May 10 2016, taken from The Telegraph Group Ltd noted a survey of 1100 senior British primary staff.

The teachers stated that a third of British children starting school are not ready for the classroom. Many of them lack social skills, have speech problems and are unable to hold a conversation. The teachers reported that levels of reading, writing and numeracy were lower than they should be. They warned of children suffering from a lack of attention and interaction from parents obsessed with their phone. Concern was raised about children being given phones and devices to keep them busy and quiet, instead of engaging with them.

The oral language deficit problem is one that is familiar in all New Entrant classes these days, including our own school. Increasingly children have not been exposed to the vocabulary that they need to ensure progress academically. Making sure we have those good conversations with our children is so essential.

Having a “talk not tap” rule at the dinner table might be a starting point along with restricting access to certain times of the day.

Regularly reading high quality literature also gives parents the opportunity to expose their children to good models of vocabulary.

Download a copy of this post Oral Language T3 2016 The Link