Oral Language Development

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Children develop oral language at a very early age. Almost every sound a human being makes can be considered communication. As children grow up, they are constantly observing and practicing communication and oral language. What they know about oral language has an effect on the development of their literacy skills. "Students who had difficulty with early speech communication skills were believed to be at risk for reading…and consequently writing" (Montgomery, 1998). Therefore, the development of oral language has an effect on the ways in which emergent readers develop literacy.

Transcribed dialog taken from a personal interview with a 3-year-old girl named Gianna will be referred to in this paper. Gianna's dialog will provide examples and will be the foundation for the discussion and analysis of language development and its effects on emergent readers. "A language requires the use of signs or symbols within grammar-that is, within a structure of rules that determines how the various signs and symbols are to be arranged. Language also allows the use of signs or symbols within a grammar to create novel instructions" (Dworetzky, 1996, p. 226-227).

Today, more than ever, oral language is being carefully studied and assessed. "It has been only recently that spoken language has been recognized as a condition of learning in all subjects, and thus the assessment of performance in it a necessity" (Keenan et. al., 1997). This is one reason why we must assess oral language. According to Salvia and Ysseldyke (1998), there are two main reasons for this type of assessment. "First, well-developed language abilities are desirable in and of themselves" (p. 539). This means that an individual should have the ability to carry on a conversation, as well as, express thoughts, emotions, and feelings. "Second, various language processes and skills are believed to underlie subsequent development. For example, research indicates that difficulties in oral language are related to the incidence of behavior disorders" (Salvia et. al., 1998, p.539). However, early detection of these oral-language disorders can have a positive effect on that child's academic development.

There are many different views of oral language. Language theorists describe the various structural aspects of language. They also focus on explanatory mechanisms. More recently, they have been focusing on descriptive types of structural analysis. "Language can be defined as a code for conveying ideas" (Salvia et. al., 1998, p. 536).

There are different stages in language development, and each stage is made up of many different components. In the One-Word stage of language development, children develop naming skills. Naming is "a development of early childhood in which the child begins pointing out objects and calling them by name. It is considered a special development because it appears to be intrinsically reinforcing and satisfying to humans and seems to occur only in our species" (Dworetzky, 1996, p. 236). Gianna displays the naming skills by pointing to the dog and calling him "Simon." She also correctly names pictures in the coloring book, such as a "rocket" and "Winnie da Pooh" (DiNobile, 1998).

Naming skills are very similar to logographic knowledge. This can be applied to emergent readers. For example, a child may not know how to read the word "McDonald's", but she may be able to recognize the sign on a highway. "Children see written language all around them – in books, supermarkets, department stores, fast-food restaurants, and on television, signs, and a variety of printed materials from the TV listings to label on household products. Print is everywhere" (Vacca et. al, 1995, p.73). Children are able to "read" these familiar words even though they have not yet learned the fundamentals of reading.

Phones or phonemes are the "smallest units of speech." These units have meanings although they are not complete words...
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