The relationship between spoken and written language

November 19, 2015 by Sylvie Thivierge

Le lien entre le langage oral et le langage écrit

For some kids, starting school is a fairly painless transition, while for others it can be more difficult. These kids learn to read, but they do not understand the meaning of what they are reading.

Some teenagers spend countless hours on their schoolwork, year in and year out, without ever getting more than a passing grade… Even in college and university, students can struggle with reading and writing without ever really figuring out why…

These young people all have intellectual potential, are motivated, and put a lot into their learning. Where does it all go wrong?

Spoken language

The development of spoken language plays a key role in the development of written language. Starting school is easier for children who have already acquired certain language skills—skills that are interrelated and start to develop at an early age. These include making sense of language, building a varied vocabulary, perceiving and reproducing language sounds, understanding the relationship between sounds and letters, having a precise knowledge of verbal grammar, varying sentence structure, and also processing information, organizing ideas, and transmitting messages in a coherent manner.

A problem that can go undetected

Difficulties in the development of  the various aspects of spoken language can explain a written language learning disability. However, spoken language issue is not always obvious. A child who is likely to struggle with written language can start school speaking in a way that doesn’t give any indication of a struggle. Family and friends will assume the child has good language comprehension and expresses him or herself with ease, since the child’s word sounds and sentence structures are fine. When the difficulty with written language arises, the root cause can become hard to link with spoken language, since the development in this regards seems adequate.

Nonetheless, the child has spoken languages weaknesses that primarily affect the understanding of hidden meaning, compound instructions and concepts of space and time, abstract words and notions, lexical access (the ability to find the right word), using complete and complex sentence structures, and selecting and organizing ideas to tell a story or explain something.

Difficulties with spoken language: repercussions on the learning of written language

When children fail to acquire one or more of the oral language skills described above, it impacts their reading and writing. They’ll struggle to make sense of what they’re reading (regardless of the subject), decode instructions, understand grammar, and produce written texts (which involves choosing ideas, being coherent, using complete and complex sentence structures, and applying grammar rules).

A solution

No matter their age, a speech-language pathologist can assess and treat spoken and writtent language difficulties. Knowing their weaknesses allow these young people understanding why they’re struggling at school, acquire the necessary language skills, and develop strategies that will allow them to deal effectively with their learning disability, however serious.

Of course, learning disabilities can have all sorts of causes. But it’s absolutely essential to look at the language skills rooted in speech when assessing a child or teenager struggling with a learning disability.