Oral language for families

Sometimes called ‘Speaking and listening’ in schools, oral language provides the foundation for the learning of other literacy skills.

At school children learn oral language by:

  • participating in classroom discussions as a whole class, in small groups and in pairs
  • talking for different purposes, for example, sharing likes and dislikes
  • reading aloud, with discussion and conversation about books
  • singing songs, chanting, reciting poems and rhymes
  • speaking in front of the class for different purposes, for example, sharing what they did over the weekend
  • listening to the teacher and classmates.

Some important oral language skills that young children will develop during early literacy learning include:

  • listening to and understanding verbal directions
  • listening to and understanding stories that are read aloud
  • asking questions or making requests and listening to the answers
  • expressing feelings, thoughts and ideas verbally
  • speaking in complete sentences
  • hearing the separate words in a sentence
  • hearing and replicating sound patterns, such as rhyme.

These are some ways you can encourage oral language at home:

  • Talk to your child, ask them questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Ask them for their thoughts, opinions, preferences and to give explanations or justifications that encourage them to speak in longer and more complex sentences.
  • Listen carefully and responsively to your child’s answers.
  • Play talking games (the car can be a great place for this) such as I spy with my little eye, Twenty questions, Celebrity heads and Taboo.
  • Do things together and talk about what you’ve done. Do some cooking or gardening together, take a trip on a bus or train, visit the local pool or park, go for a walk in the bush or around your neighbourhood. This will expose children to different vocabulary, technical words and different sentence structures.
  • Playing together in planned or spontaneous ways allows children to experiment with talk for different purposes and encourages creativity and imagination. Draw together, use play dough, dig in some dirt, play dress-ups, make roads for toy cars, play with puppets or play cards and board games.
  • Sing songs, nursery rhymes or silly poems. Change the words around or substitute names and places that you and your child know.