The language impairment and emergent literacy connection – Research rumination

We know that language skills are important for kindergarten, but why are these skills so important? Research has long shown a connection between language and literacy, but what specifically do the researchers talk about? In particular, what do they have to say about language and emergent literacy in kindergarten?

This week, I read an article titled, “Understanding risk for reading difficulties in children with language impairment,” by Kimberly A. Murphy, Laura M. Justice, Ann A. O’Connell, Jill M. Pentimonti, and Joan N. Kaderavek. These authors explored kindergarten reading skills, how they differ between strong readers and readers who have difficulty, and how one can predict reading ability.

Let’s break it down!

Purpose: To predict the risk for reading difficulty at kindergarten among children with language impairment based on some measures gathered in preschool. The researchers wanted to find out what the differences were in emergent literacy skills between children with a language impairment who are “poor readers” and those who are “good readers.” They also wanted to investigate how well preschool language and early literacy skills predicted reading skills in kindergarten.

Participants: 136 preschool children with language impairments who were enrolled in early childhood special education classrooms in the Midwest.

Results: In the spring semester of preschool, all students were given tests to determine a score for their oral language and emergent literacy skills (knowledge of letter names, print concept, phonological awareness, and name writing). In spring semester of kindergarten, the children’s kindergarten reading skills were measured. 27% of kindergarteners in this group were determined to be “poor readers.”

According to the data gathered, children who were “good readers” (73%) had stronger skills in the area of oral language, name writing, phonological awareness, and alphabet knowledge at the end of preschool. This was the big difference between the two groups.

The biggest predictors of kindergarten reading status were oral language skills, alphabet knowledge, and print knowledge. In other words, the higher the skills in each of these areas, the higher the likelihood that the child’s kindergarten reading skills would be strong.

So what does this mean? As the authors state:

The fact that these differences exist even before the onset of formal reading instruction indicates that these skills are not simply a consequence of reading development, but rather are precursor skills. Children who develop reading difficulties likely experienced lags in these skills even before entering kindergarten.

According to the study, specific areas of language were greater predictors of reading difficulties. If we can identify these delays in these language skills early, interventions can be put into place. Interventions would help mediate the difficulties, and ultimately, in theory, help to prevent said reading difficulties.

If you’re looking for some ways to enrich your kiddo’s language skills, take a peek at this video I made with my niece. If have concerns about your child’s language skills, especially as they approach kindergarten, please contact your friendly, neighborhood speech-language pathologist. They’re always here to help!


Murphy, K. A., Justice, L. M., O’Connell, A. A., Pentimonti, J. M., & Kaderavek J. N. (2016). Understanding risk for reading difficulties in children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing, 59(6), 1436-1447.

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