The Connection Between Oral Language and Reading

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In her article, Hogan (2022) describes the link between language and reading. The following is a summary of some of the key she points makes regarding the link between oral language, vocabulary, reading and comprehension:.

A speech disorder is when a child has difficulty producing the speech sounds that make up a word. (e.g., saying /top/ for ‘stop’). A language disorder is when a child has difficulty understanding or using language (e.g., incorrect word usage and/or grammar, difficulty telling or understanding a story or difficulty using language for socialising).

In 2003, Catts et al. categorised children who scored poor on reading comprehension as belonging into four subgroups:

1. Poor word reading skills, BUT good language comprehension (labelled as having dyslexia).

  • These children had good comprehension when the text was read to them.
  • Evidence of early speech impairment, speaking rate, difficulty repeating non-words and trouble learning the names of objects.
  • At risk of reduced vocabulary over time due to reduced quantity of reading.
  • However, some children may be in this category because of factors other than dyslexia (e.g., poor reading instruction or limited English proficiency).

2. Poor word reading skills AND poor language comprehension skills (labelled as having dyslexia + developmental language disorder).

    3. Good word reading skills, BUT poor language comprehension (labelled as having developmental language disorder).

    • Tend to have difficulty using and understanding language (NOT due to other factors such as brain injury or extreme language deprivation).
    • Tend to start speaking later.
    • Have difficulty learning new words and immature grammar.
    • Tell less cohesive stories with minimal detail.
    • However, some children may also be in this category for other reasons (e.g., limited English proficiency, attention deficits or limited background knowledge).

    4. Good word reading skills AND good language comprehension skills.

      Key reasons for lack of improvement in reading comprehension from a speech pathologist perspective:

      • Lack of systematic, high quality , evidence-base language comprehension instruction
      • Language comprehension underpins reading comprehension.
      • Language comprehension involves accurately following verbal directions, comprehending orally told stories and participating in conversations.
      • Need for effective early screening tests to identify students with poor language comprehension skills.
      • Over reliance on word only reading assessments, especially in the early years.
      • Lack of consensus on a label for children with developmental language disorder versus specific language disorder versus specific learning disorder versus childhood aphasia versus global developmental delay.
      • High caseloads and a need for an inter-professional team.
      • Under-identification of children at risk and a lack of school-based instructional support.


      Hogan, T. (2022). What’s language got to do with it? Speech-language pathology contributions to the science of reading. The Reading League Journal, 3 (3), 40-49.

      Targeted Reading for Comprehension Programs