Oral language is, quite simply, listening and speaking. It’s the often-overlooked foundation for literacy. The stronger a child’s oral language development, the greater the literacy success. Because increased literacy correlates to enhanced learning ability and sharper critical reasoning skills, an emphasis on oral language gives children a proven foundation for dramatically accelerated success in life. Oral language stimulates thinking. Through listening and speaking, children learn how to organize their thinking and how to focus their ideas. Engaging a child in challenging conversation using advanced vocabulary and concepts helps to accelerate language acquisition. The more language a child receives (receptive language), the more language the child has to speak (expressive language). Yes! The words a child hears are the words the child will speak. It’s never too early to talk to an infant. We see how children acquire language and its meaning when we observe a baby who invariably responds excitedly to hear its name. Or a not-yet-verbal toddler who responds appropriately to a spoken request. Children’s receptive language is well-developed by the time they begin to speak. And children do speak the precise words and phrases in the precise way they have heard and understood those words and phrases. Children are literally “all ears” when others speak. By the time children begin kindergarten, they have mastered most of the fundamentals of their language. The key, then, is to consider all children as conversationalists, even when children are not yet talking. Humans are born with an innate gift for figuring out the rules of language used in their environment. Children rely on the adults around them to teach them these language rules, and this instruction happens during conversation.
Why Oral Language?
Oral language is a tool owned by every parent. Regardless of educational attainment or socio-economic environment, every parent can utilize oral language every day toward their child’s benefit. And regardless of the topic, all conversation benefits the developing child. The child is keenly observing how the parent talks and listens. Oral language is the perfect tool for a busy parent. Oral language requires only time and conversation. It can be done in any setting, and for any length of time. Because children are free from so many of the worries and stresses that preoccupy their parents, they view with equal excitement every opportunity to engage in conversation — in the car, at dinner, at the store, anywhere. Sometimes, parents worry that a child might ask a question which the parent can’t answer. With oral language, however, the answer isn’t the point — it’s the conversation that’s of importance. It’s like that old saying, “It’s not the destination but the journey…” Until a child reaches the age of 10 or so, a parent is the smartest person the child knows. Thus, a young child treasures every opportunity to have a conversation with the parent. It’s that interactive use of language that matters to the child.