Reading and Spelling

How do children read and spell?

Reading & Spelling

The English language is an alphabetic language. In order to read and spell English children need to have a clear understanding of how letters relate to sounds (to read) and sounds relate to letters (to spell). An understanding of sounds in words (phoneme awareness) helps children to do this together with systematic, explicit and intense instruction in phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies. See the Australian National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy for more information.


When learning to read, children often start to recognise whole words from memory (e.g. their name, mum, dad) however, as they encounter more and more words they cannot memorise them all and they need to start developing decoding skills. Children need to know how to recognise each letter or letter combination (e.g. sh, ar, k), the sound that is associated with it and then blend these sounds together to read the word (e.g. sh-ar-k = shark). Word level reading skills such as this are crucial to children’s success in reading and are commonly impaired in children with learning difficulties. However, reading is more than just decoding words, children also need to comprehend what they read by:


  • understanding the meaning of words they are reading,
  • understanding the meaning of those words within the context of a sentence and the overall story,
  • understanding the grammatical structure of a sentence and how the meaning of a word is changed by small function words and word endings (e.g. –ing and –ed),
  • understanding the overall structure of the story and the order of events, and
  • reasoning about what they are reading to predict, make associations and inferences about the content.

The majority of children learn all these processes effortlessly but for some children cracking the code of the English language and comprehending text is extremely difficult and frustrating. Children with speech and language difficulties are at high risk of experiencing reading and spelling difficulties even if their difficulties were successfully remediated at an earlier age. This is because of the huge role that oral language skills play in learning to read.

Why are speech pathologists involved with reading and spelling?

Speech Pathologists have expert knowledge in the field of oral or spoken language development and disorders. Oral language skills include the ability to comprehend or understand what others are saying as well as the ability to use words and sentences to communicate effectively. Research estimates suggest that a significant proportion of students with learning difficulties in reading, writing, spelling and maths have such difficulties because of an underlying impairment in their oral language skills. Many of these difficulties can be identified before the child enters school or during the first year of school. The speech pathologist’s role is to identify these underlying difficulties, provide intervention to remediate them and link intervention to written language (reading, spelling and writing) and wider learning in the classroom.

What oral language problems affect reading and spelling development?

Oral language skills are a crucial foundation skill for later literacy learning. More and more schools are recognising the need to partner with speech pathologists to identify and support oral language skills as a key to learning success, particularly in the early primary school years. If oral language difficulties can be identified early then they can be remediated quickly and any impact on a child’s academic learning minimised. The following oral language skills may be impaired in children with reading, spelling and writing difficulties:


  • Speech – children need to be able to pronounce sounds correctly
  • Phonological awareness (awareness of sounds and sound patterns in words) – children need to be able to break up and blend sounds and syllables in the correct order of words (e.g. cat = c – a – t, caterpillar = cat – er – pill- ar), be aware of rhyme patterns (e.g. cat, hat), and be able to discriminate different sounds in words.
  • Vocabulary - children need to know and understand a huge variety of words as well as associative links between words
  • Rapid naming and word retrieval— children need to be able to quickly recall words, name them and express themselves fluently
  • Story telling (narrative) skills—children need to be able to tell a story and understand a story structure in order to read and write a story
  • Comprehension skills—children need to be able to understand, process and remember what others are saying, follow directions and process questions 
  • Grammar—children need to be able to understand and talk in grammatically correct sentences in order to read and write them
  • Reasoning – children need to problem solve, predict and infer meanings from language

How can speech pathologists help?

Speech Pathologists at Therapy Matters utilise a range of specialist skills, resources and techniques to assist children with language based learning difficulties in reading and spelling. Therapy approaches may include, but are not limited to:


Speech Pathologists aim to identify any foundation oral language skills that may be limiting a child’s reading and spelling skills and subsequently provide tailor made intervention to remediate these underlying difficulties with intervention being closely integrated between oral and written language skills.


Contact us for more information on reading and spelling problems.