Literacy: The Importance of Speech & Language

Literacy refers to reading, spelling and writing skills. The development of good literacy skills is dependent on having strong speech and language skills and other factors such as executive functioning and memory.

  • Speech is the production of the sounds that are used to make up words. The speech system also comprises speech processing skills, known as phonological awareness - the ability to ‘hear and process’ sounds in words. 
  • Language is the way we use words and sentences to express our thoughts and feelings but also how we understand the thoughts and feelings of others.
  • Executive Functions are a group of cognitive abilities that are used in goal-directed behaviour.  They are needed for planning, problem solving, organisation and sustaining/switching attention. 
  • Working memory is the ability to hold and process information. This ability to retain verbal, visual and spatial information is essential for reading and learning.

If children go to school with delayed speech and/or language development they are likely to have trouble learning to read and write.  For example, problems with reading accuracy may be the result of problems with a child’s speech sound system, whereas problems with reading comprehension may result from problems with their language system. Some children may have difficulties in one system only and some may have problems with both. 

Speech Pathologists are well placed to help students with literacy problems.  Most tutoring only works for children who are not too far behind in their reading, have a strong vocabulary and reasonable phonemic (speech sound) awareness.  If your child has more difficulty than average they are likely to need the more specialised help of a Speech Pathologist.