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Oral language development is the development of communication skills using spoken words or sound to express feelings, needs, and ideas.

Oral language involves speaking and listening skills.

Oral language is made up of at least five components which are phonological skills, pragmatics, syntax morphological skills, and semantics(vocabulary). All these components of oral language are necessary to communicate and learn through conversation and spoken interaction.

What does Research Say?


Children usually say a first word around 12 months of age. They then and experience a vocabulary groeth between 18 and 24 months (Bates, Bretherton, Snyder, 1988; Fenson et al., 1994; Goldfield & Reznick, 1990). Researchers do not know if this is due to physical development to allow words to be said, cognitive development, or a mixture of both.

First Grade Word Estimates

  • Smith (1941) 16,500 b
  • Templin (1957) 7, 800,
  • Anglin’(1993) 10,398.

Stage Versus Non Stage Development of Oral Language

Almost everyone agrees on the importance of oral language development mapping to phonemic awareness. There is disagrmeent in the best sequence for teaching the mapping of phonemes and graphemes.

Stage or phase theories trace there theories back to Jean Chall. Readers will have specific concrete stages and cognitive structures at different phases of development. According to Ehri (2005)there are:

  • pre-alphabetic
  • partial alphabetic
  • full alphabetic
  • consolidated alphabetic phases.

Stage theories suggest an explicit scope and sequence for developing phonemic awareness

In a nonstage theories researchers believe in an incremental approach to mapping phonemes to letters through oral language development. They argue , beginning readers learn words through three factors of phonology, orthography, and semantics. You

Oral Language and Comprehension

We know that oral language predicts comprehension scores in later grades. Catts, Fey, Zhang, & Tomblin, (1999) found phonological awareness and rapid naming predicted the most variance in reading comprehension scores of second graders. However language skills explained an additional 13.8% of the variance.

In fact in third grade reading accuracy and reading comprehension begin to split in measures of overall reading. Decoding skills predict reading accuracy while oral language skills (defined as vocabulary and background knowledge) explain the variance in comprehension scores (Storch and Whitehurst, 2002.

Oral Language and Vocabulary

Studies show a relationship between oral language development and vocabulary. Hart and Risley proposed the four million word gap in their research on vocabulary and oral language development. More recent work has challenged the size of the “gap” and under lying principles in the study but everyone agrees greater and more complex talk improves vocabulary acquisition. Assessments of knowledge using vocabulary measures are highly correlated with comprehension measure.

This has lead to researchers calling for a renewed focus on building background knowledge and focusing on academic language acquisition (Nueman, 2006 Tabors, Roach, & Snow, 2001).

Research Based Teaching Tips

Early Childhood teachers should engage in various levels of cognitively challenging talk during the day. Ee know density of adult talke matters (Dickinson & Tabors, 2001; Hart & Risley, 1995). Three key preschool contexts to increase the amount of cognitively complex conversations are (1) book reading time, (2) playtime, and (3) meal and/or snack time. In general the goal is to get them to elaborate and clarify (Weizman & Snow, 2001).

A minimum of 45 minutes (divided into three sessions) of read-aloud time per day is recommended for pre-school classrooms (Dickinson &Tabors, 2001). This will allow you to have students elaborate and clarify the stories you read using immediate and nonimmediate talk is useful in developing oral language skills.

According to research done by Dickinson & Tabors (2001), immediate and nonimmediate talk while reading a book to a child can benefit their oral language development and make lessons have greater tinking demands. Immediate talk refers to labeling and defining illustrations, while nonimmediate talk refers to using illustrations as starting points for discussions.

Adult density of talk also requires sustained conversations. Teachers are 2-3x more likely to engage in cognitively challenging conversations when they are stationary during playtime rather than circulating the classroom (Dickenson, 1994). If you utilize centers you may want to stay at one center rather than float through the classroom.

Research done by Wasik, Dobbins, and Herrmann (2001) shows that children’s oral language skills can also be expanded upon through dialogic reading. Dialogic reading involves having the child actively participate in book reading by responding to prompts about the book. They can simultaneously practice language use and comprehension.

  • Mealtime is an excellent opportunity to add and explain new vocabulary into conversations with students when an adult is seated at the table in a family-style setting.
  • Encourage interactions among children. Peer learning is an important part of language development.
  • Wide range of materials should promote talking
  • Every child’s language or dialect is worthy of respect as a system on communication.
  • Encourage interaction as children come to understand written language, children continue to develop oral abilities and skills.

Oral Language Development In the home

Children come from all different backgrounds and families are known as a child’s first teacher. Many children speak a variety of languages based on their family culture. Oral language communication in the home supports a child’s development of those skills and creates a foundation for emerging literacy skills.


  • Sharing stories with children about your life experiences.
  • Having daily conversations with children in their home language.
  • Reading books aloud to children and engaging in conversations about what was read.

Oral Language Development In the Classroom

Conversations in the classroom are essential for oral language development. Teachers talk to children constantly, during snack time, recess, and circle time. They engage children in cognitively challenging conversation to teach them how to express their thoughts and emotions. The quality of oral language interactions between teachers and students creates a strong foundation for language and literacy development.


  • Holding daily conversations with children about their interests, needs, and preferences.
  • Create opportunities for shared reading experiences.
  • Encourage children to verbally interact with their peers.
  • Ask children questions during daily experiences.
oral_language_development.txt · Last modified: 2022/03/13 16:30 by