Language development and literacy


How important is it?

Synthesis of experts' texts - Published online September 8, 2010 (2nd rev. ed.)

Topic Editor : Susan Rvachew, PhD, McGill University, Canada.

Learning to talk is one of the most visible and important achievements of early childhood. New language tools mean new opportunities for social understanding, for learning about the world, for sharing experience, pleasures and needs. Then, in the first three years of school, children take another big step in language development as they learn to read. Although these two domains are distinct, they are also related. Early-language skills have been linked to later successful reading. As well, pre-literacy and literacy activities can help further children’s language competencies in both the preschool years and later schooling.

Children with poor listening and speaking skills are referred to as having a language impairment. An estimated 8 to 12% of preschool children and 12% of children entering school in Canada and the U.S. have some form of language impairment. Studies also show that 25 to 90% of children with language impairment experience reading disorder, usually defined as poor reading achievement occurring after sufficient opportunity to learn to read. Reading disorder among school-aged children is estimated to be between 10 and 18%.

When children have difficulty understanding others and expressing themselves, it is not surprising that psychosocial and emotional adjustment problems ensue. Children with delayed or disordered language are therefore at increased risk for social, emotional and behavioural problems. As well, research shows that most children who have poor reading skills at the end of Grade One will continue to experience difficulties reading later on.


* This topic was developed in  2004 with the collaboration of the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network (CLLRNet).


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