1. Introduction
The principle aim of this paper is to discuss how oral language supports the development of phonological and phonemic awareness, emergent literacy, initial literacy and language growth in general. The paper will start with a brief definition of key terms and then proceed to the main body followed by a conclusion.
Oral language refer to the transfer of information and knowledge from one person to another or one generation to the next through the word of mouth. In Africa for example, Knowledge about iron smelting, farming, and animal herding has been passing on orally. In addition, greetings, eulogies (poems of praise), storytelling, proverbs, and riddles all contribute to the rich oral tradition of the African people. In all African cultures, a greeting encounter is an art in oral communication. Phonological awareness refers to an individual’s awareness of the phonological structure, or sound structure, of language. It is a listening skill that includes the ability to distinguish units of speech, such as rhymes, syllables in words, and individual phonemes in syllables. The ability to segment and blend phonemes is critical for the development of reading skills, including decoding and fluency. Phonological awareness is an important and reliable predictor of later reading ability. Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness that focuses on recognizing and manipulating phonemes, the smallest units of sound. Phonemic awareness is demonstrated by awareness of sounds at three levels of sound structure: syllables, onsets and rimes, and phonemes. For example, the word football in the General Zambian accent of English is a compound word that contains two syllables, /fʊt/ and /bɑl/. Sulzby and Teale (1996:728) state that “Emergent literacy is concerned with the earliest phases of literacy development, the period between birth and the time when children read and write conventionally. The term emergent literacy signals a belief that, in a literate society, young children between 1 and 2 years olds are in the process of becoming literate. These views are also supported by (Morro, 1997) who says Emergent literacy refers to “the reading and writing behaviors that precede and develop into conventional literacy in the life span of an individual”. Initial literacy refer to the teaching and learning of reading and writing of conventional symbols. Initial literacy is associated to conventional literacy that follows emergent literacy and this is normally learnt from in grade one of the formal schooling systems. Language growth refers to the development of language in an individual or a child both written and spoken.
2. How Oral Language Supports the Development of Phonological and Phonemic Awareness
It should be noted here that phonological awareness is not the same as phonemic awareness, while the two concepts are used in similar contexts playing similar roles, they have distinct functions because Phonemic awareness falls under phonological awareness

2.1 Phonological awareness
Oral language can lead to the development of phonological and phonemic awareness as introduces identification, segmentation, blending and manipulation of speech sounds in syllables. A rich oral or linguistic environment helps children identify the possible sounds available in a language. Children are able to associate individual sounds and matching them to meanings.
Oral language help children in phonics to know and match letters or letter patterns with sounds, learn the rules of spelling, and use this information to decode (read) and encode (write) words. Phonological awareness relates only to speech sounds, not to alphabet letters or sound-spellings, so it is not necessary for students to have alphabet knowledge in order to develop a basic phonological awareness of language.
Oral language help develop some phonological awareness as it is an auditory skill that is developed through a variety of activities that expose students to the sound structure of the language and teach them to recognize, identify and manipulate it. Songs, nursery rhymes and games are used to help students to become alert to speech sounds and rhythms, rather than meanings, including rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and prosody, McCardle & Chihabra, 2004). While exposure to different sound patterns in songs and rhymes is a start towards developing phonological awareness, the traditional actions that go along with songs and nursery rhymes typically focus on helping students to understand the meanings of words, so different strategies must be implemented to aid students in becoming alert to the sounds instead. Specific activities that involve students in attending to and demonstrating recognition of the sounds of language include waving hands when rhymes are heard, stomping feet along with alliterations, clapping the syllables in names, and slowly stretching out arms when segmenting words. Phonological awareness is technically only about sounds and students do not need to know the letters of the alphabet to be able to develop phonological awareness. Therefore, oral language help children identify the possible sounds available in a particular language, Adams etal (1998).
2.2 Phonemic awareness
Oral language can lead to the development of phonological and phonemic awareness in that since Phonemic awareness is a subset of phonological awareness, it is clear that oral language will aid listeners to hear, identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound that can differentiate meaning. Separating the spoken word “cat” into three distinct phonemes, /k/, /æ/, and /t/, requires phonemic awareness , ( McCardle & Chihabra, 2004).
It should be noted that oral language supports both phonemic awareness and phonological awareness and these two phrases are often confused since they are interdependent. Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate individual phonemes. Phonological awareness includes this ability, but it also includes the ability to hear and manipulate larger units of sound, such as onsets and rimes and syllables. phonemic awareness has a direct correlation with students’ ability to read as they get older. Phonemic awareness builds a foundation for students to understand the rules of the language. This in turn allows each student to apply these skills and increase his or her oral reading fluency and understanding of the text.
Oral language in phonemic awareness relates to the ability to distinguish and manipulate individual sounds, such as /f/, /ʊ/, and /t/ in the case of foot. The following are common phonemic awareness skills practiced with students:
Phoneme isolation: which requires recognizing the individual sounds in words, for example, “Tell me the first sound you hear in the word paste” (/p/). Phoneme identity: which requires recognizing the common sound in different words, for example, “Tell me the sound that is the same in bike, boy and bell” (/b/). Phoneme substitution: in which one can turn a word (such as “cat”) into another (such as “hat”) by substituting one phoneme (such as /h/) for another (/k/). Phoneme substitution can take place for initial sounds (cat-hat), middle sounds (cat-cut) or ending sounds (cat-can). Oral segmenting: The teacher says a word, for example, “ball,” and students say the individual sounds, /b/, /ɑ/, and /l/. Oral blending: The teacher says each sound, for example, “/b/, /ɑ/, /l/” and students respond with the word, “ball.” Sound deletion: The teacher says word, for example, “bill,” has students repeat it, and then instructs students to repeat the word without a sound. Onset-rime manipulation: which requires isolation, identification, segmentation, blending, or deletion of onsets (the single consonant or blend that precedes the vowel and following consonants), for example, j-ump, st-op, str-ong, ( McCardle & Chihabra, 2004), Adams etal (1998).
All these are phonemic awareness activities, such as sound substitution, where students are instructed to replace one sound with another, sound addition, where students add sounds to words, and sound switching, where students manipulate the order of the phonemes. These are more complex but research supports the use of the three listed above, particularly oral segmenting and oral blending and this is how oral language can support the development of phonological and phonemic and phonological awareness.
3. How Oral Language Supports the Development of Emergent Literacy
Oral language can lead to the development of “Emergent literacy in the sense that all that children do or are involved in during the earliest phases of growth between birth and the time when children read and write conventionally, involves oral language from caregivers. The term emergent literacy signals a belief that, in a literate society, young children between 1 and 2 years olds are in the process of becoming literate with the help of a rich oral linguistic environment where there are many caregivers especially those who like talking too much. Since Emergent literacy refers to “the reading and writing behaviors that precede and develop into conventional literacy in the life span of an individual”. Many candidates suggests that the factors that lead to the development of emergent literacy include; oral language, concepts about print, environmental print, alphabet knowledge, phonological processing skills, visual-perceptual skills, emergent (pretend) reading and emergent (pretend) writing, (Philips 2009:15). Other oral language activities that promote the development of emergent literacy include imitation of siblings and care givers, simulation, role play, games, singing, storytelling, interactions, scribbling of symbols in form of drawings, pictures, television and exposure to books, pens and pencils. These activities play a major role with regard to how emergent literacy skills begin to develop in early infancy and early childhood.
It is clear that through rhyme, oral instinctive responses, conversation and the other factors mentioned above, infants and children will start developing emergent literacy skills in the form of knowing the type of letters and sounds of words. This marks the development of emergent literacy. Clay (1966) first introduced the term emergent literacy to describe the behaviors used by young children with books and when reading and writing, even though the children could not actually read and write in the conventional sense. Whereas the concept of reading readiness suggested that there was a point in time when children were ready to learn to read and write, emergent literacy suggested that there were continuities in children’s literacy development between early literacy behaviors and those displayed once children could read independently. However, emergent literacy skilss develop faster when there is a rich oral or linguistic environment.

oral language is critical as it aid emergent Literacy development which begins before children start formal instruction in elementary school (Teale & Sulzby, 1986). For example, by age 2 or 3 many children can identify signs, labels, and logos in their homes and in their communities. Reading and writing develop at the same time and interrelatedly in young children, rather than sequentially, Teale & Sulzby, (1986). Emergent literacy skills begin developing in early infancy and early childhood through oral language or oracy from the environment. Literacy involves listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities which are provided appropriately by the environments in which children are brought up. Therefore, developing listening skills, promoting auditory memory and phonological sensitivity help early infancy and early childhood develop emergent literacy. Studies has shown that children learn faster and better by creating a language centred learning via games, cues and child play. (ICDD, 1996; Teale & Sulzby, 1986).

4. How Oral Language Supports the Development of Initial Literacy
Oral language can lead to the development of initial literacy through Sound-Symbol Association. Through oral language, children are able to associate letters and letters to possible sounds. The child’s knowledge of how letters and sounds correspond, and that one sound can be several representations of each different sounds thereby helping them know how to read and write. Learning to read and write (initial literacy) is determined by a number of prerequisite activities and these include the rich oral language environment by caregivers, emergent literacy activities and phonological and phonemic awareness. Since emergent literacy associated activities are naturally available in the environment of the child, it prudent for one to conclude that oral language help in the development of initial literacy from the environment of the learner.

Studies has shown that oral language conceptualized broadly plays both a direct and an indirect role in word recognition during the transition to school and serves as a better foundation for early reading skill than does vocabulary alone. Oral language can lead to the development of initial literacy through the block representation of Consonant or vowel sequences. This component facilitates the child’s ability to segment words into individual phonemes through developing auditory analysis skills. A single block represents an individual sound, and a row of blocks represent a string of sounds; so that the number of blocks directly correlates to the number of sounds in the sequence.
Oral language can lead to the development of initial literacy through the block representation of syllables. Once the child understands that syllables consist of sounds, they then have to count the number of sounds, the order and distinguish between phonetic features. However, reading and spelling non-words is equally critical as this aspect builds on previously learnt skills by using block representation to read and spell non-words. The child is encouraged to employ metalinguistic knowledge to describe changes. Reading and Spelling real words is another issue to consider as far as oral language is concerned. Children learn to transfer the aforementioned foundation skills to simple/regular real words, which do not require specific spelling rules.
It should be noted here that initial literacy is associated with Phonological processing and emergent literacy activities. However, what is crucial for learners is phonological processing which relates to the alphabetic principle of letter-sound correspondences.
Philips 2009 notes four key aspects in phonological processing, which include: Phonological memory – The ability to hold sound-based information in immediate memory to help with decoding of words. A good example here is that of BOXER in Animal Farm by George Orwell. Phonological Access – This refers to the ability to retrieve sound-based codes from memory. The faster and more efficiently one is able to retrieve or recall phonological sound codes associated with letters, word segments and whole words, the easier it will be to decode and to develop reading fluency. Phonological Sensitivity/Awareness – This is a much harder skill or knowledge area. This is because Phonemes do not really exist but are imbedded in words when we speak. He further notes that Phonological sensitivity develops in a progressive fashion starting with smaller units of sounds across the per-school period
Batman – bat + man
Cowboy – cow + boy
Candy – can + dee
Donut – doe + nut

Cat – /k/ + /a/ + /t/
Fast – /f/ + /ae/ + /s/ + /t/
Mop – /m/ + /o/ + /p/
Through oral language, children are able to associate sounds to letters, letters to meanings and this is how oral language help in the development literacy skills at different levels.
The Print Knowledge is one area that concretizes literacy skills and this involves understanding that it the PRINT part of a book that reflects the words and not other parts such as pictures or the spaces between words. It also involves understanding that there are 26 different letters in say, English and that letter can look different but still remain the same letters as in small case and capital letters or different print styles
Evidence shows that all these three skill areas (Oral Language, Phonological Processing, Print Knowledge) are modular, meaning that their development is distinct and should be treated and focused on independently in developing literacy skills.

5. How Oral Language Supports the Development of Language Growth in General
Oral language help in the development of language growth in general through a variety of ways like watching movies, listening to speeches, attending functions, involving oneself in dialogue including emergent and initial literacy with phonological sensitivity.

Language growth in general is associated to learning to read and reading to learn. While both of these are directly associated to oral language, learning to read involves phonological awareness and emergent literacy directly. There is a clear boarder between activities for learning to read and reading to learn for language growth. The table below shows this distinction:
Phonics Advanced comprehension
Word recognition Fluency in both silent reading and reading aloud
Literal comprehension Ability to read a variety of texts
Basic grammatical knowledge Reference skills (advanced book knowledge) for example:
• Using table of contents
• Using an index
• Interpreting tables, maps, diagrams etc
• Skimming
• Scanning
Basic book knowledge:
• How to hold a book and turn pages
• Reading from left to right
• Reading from top to bottom
• Knowing that both text and picture contain meaning
Handwriting Length of text
Spelling Variety of writing
Punctuation Quality of content in texts:
• Interest
• Style
• Vocabulary
Language structure
Text structure
The aspect of language growth in general takes many forms. While its true that oral language plays an important role especially for children, it is clear that oral language is at the core center of language growth.

The role oral language plays in language growth in general involves all literacy development skills ranging from phonological and phonemic awareness, emergent and initial literacy and othe external forces like discussions, listening to good speeches and reading printed media. However, it’s important to note that the relationship between emergent and initial literacy is a kind of symbiotic relationship. It cannot be linear because literacy development is a complex activity and we cannot associated certain activities like games, singing and imitation to initial literacy of emergent literacy alone. The process can start anywhere as shown in the diagram below.

Oral language can lead to the development of language growth in general through charting, attending functions, listening to great political debate, watching movies, walking in the streets and generally all domains where oral language is manifested. There is no specific oral language instance which can strictly be associated to language growth in general because oral language is widely applied and it is at the center of human endeavor.

6. Conclusion
It’s clear that Oral language proficiency supports literacy activities in many ways. For example, at the level of decoding the written word either through phonics or word recognition strategies, and the use of semantics and other language skills to predict vocabulary in reading. This explains why children are advised or it is essential that early reading or initial literacy in school is taught in the language that the child speaks in normal communication because of the role of oral language in developing literacy skills in children. Oral language skills are important to literacy development in the sense that Knowing words is key to learning to read and it is difficult to learn to read if you do not know words, i. e. what words mean and what they represent. In most cases, reading-related Oral Language skills include: Vocabulary knowledge, Syntactic knowledge and Narrative understanding (Philips 2009). So broadly, when we talk about initial literacy and how oral language enhances the development of literacy skills, we are referring to a three tier structure as illustrated below:
oral language + emergent literacy or awareness + basic skills
base stage before school school
All these activities contributes to language growth in general including those other activities in other domains like listening to speeches, conversations and attending functions or different play activities.


Adams, M. J, Foorman, B., R., Lundberg, I., & Beeler, T. (1998). Phonemic awareness in young children: A classroom curriculum. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
Clay, M. (1966). Emergent reading behaviour. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

McCardle, P., Chhabra, V. (2004). The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research. Baltimore, MD
Teale, William, & Sulzby, Elizabeth. (1986). Emergent literacy: Writing and reading. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Villiers, J. G. & Villiers, P. A. (1981) Language Acquisition. London: Harvard University Press.
Wood, D. (1998) How children think and Learn. 2nd ed. Australia: Blackwell publishing.


About Sitwe

Sitwe Benson is a citizen of the world based in Zambia. He is never alone.
This entry was posted in Education, Literacy, Language and Curriculum and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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