Language skills and learning to read

Presidents’ Award winner Margaret J. Snowling looks at risk and protective factors.
A CHILD’s first words are a momentous occasion, but for many parents late talking goes unnoticed. If the child is the firstborn of the family, no comparisons can be made, and relatives may reassure ‘It’s OK, he’s a boy’ (and boys are more likely to be late starters). Later in the preschool years, a child may be difficult to understand; he or she might have a large repertoire of their ‘own words’ that others find unintelligible. Often such babble is endearing, the source of family amusement, and no one worries much because an older sibling can translate. But speech or language delay can be the first sign of reading difficulties – difficulties that will only come to the fore when the child starts school. The problem for parents and clinicians is to know when a language delay is an issue for concern, and when it is just part of typical variation.

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