The importance of Oral language as our children enter School

Oral language is the foundation for the development of literacy skills and is considered to be a strong indicator of later academic achievement (Bradfield et al., 2013; Gross, 2013; Resnick & Snow, 2009).

As children enter school we want to ensure that they are equipped with the tools for success. We want children to have good oral language skills….but what are oral language skills?
Oral language is the ability to use words in a meaningful way to have your needs met, to be able to relate to others in an appropriate way and to be able to convey information.

These skills are paramount throughout childhood, during schooling and later in life when maintaining a household, family and job.  While it sounds easy, there are a lot of factors that influence a child’s oral language skills. These include:

  • Do they have good hearing skills
  • Are they able to pay attention to other people talking
  • Are they able to use a variety of sounds to create words
  • Are they motivated by a variety of things and want to talk about them 
  • Do they have a large vocabulary (labels, actions, locations, describing words etc.)
  • Do they understand the meaning of a variety of words
  • Can they combine words into a sentence 
  • Do they understand and use grammatical markers
For children to develop oral language skills they need to be in an environment that surrounds them in language. The more language a child hears throughout their daily routine the better. While the language they hear is important it is equally important that they get to practise their own language. Oral language improves through practice, that is, when children talk regularly for different purposes and with different communication partners.


Oral diagram

As a child enters school, their oral language skills are important so they can participate in the classroom and can build friendships. This is also when their reading skills will really start to develop. Children need good oral language skills to become good readers. In Australia, 20% of four year old children have difficulty understanding or using oral language. Children with poor oral language skills are 6 times more likely to have reading problems. Oral language skills are a very important foundation to learning to read. While children learn to read in the initial years of school this quickly changes so that they soon read to learn new information. Those children with poor oral language skills resulting in poor reading skills can very quickly be left behind their peers.


What can we do to increase our child’s oral language skills?

  1. Build oral language into daily routines: Talk with your child throughout your day. Discuss what you and your child are seeing and doing. Language opportunities occur continually while doing daily activities. Build language skills as you eat breakfast, when getting into the car, while at the park or during your grocery shopping. 

  2. Provide opportunities for social interaction: We know oral language develops through practise. We also know that oral language develops most effectively through one-to-one conversations with someone who is a better language user. Give your child many opportunities to interact with a variety of people in a variety of different environments.

  3. Explore books together: Quality book sharing is paramount in oral language development and in literacy development. Sharing a book means more than just reading the text. Make book sharing a conversation. Talk about the pictures and what is happening with your child. Also, introduce them to some of those trickier words by explaining what they mean and trying to relate it to their real life. 

If you have any concerns with your child’s language development please discuss this with your Health Nurse or GP. They may consider a referral to a Speech Pathologist.

Click here to see the communication milestones from Speech Pathology Australia.

This article was written by Amy Stuart, who is a Speech Pathologist for The Benevolent Society. For more information about speech pathology services click here or call us on 1800 236 762