Reading & Spelling

How do children read & spell?

English is an alphabetic language. 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 (phonological awareness) helps children to do this together with systematic, explicit and intense instruction in phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension strategies.

When learning to read, children often start to recognise whole words from memory (e.g. their name, mum, dad) however, as they encounter more words they cannot memorise them all. They need to start developing decoding skills. Children need to recognise each letter or letter combination (e.g. sh, ar, k), the sound associated with it and then blend these sounds together to read the word (e.g. sh-ar-k = shark). These skills are crucial 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.

The majority of children learn all these processes effortlessly but for some children cracking the code of English and comprehending text is extremely difficult and frustrating. Children with speech and language difficulties are at high risk to experience reading and spelling difficulties. This is due to the huge role that oral language skills play in learning to read.

Why are speech pathologists involved in 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 understand what others are saying as well as the ability to use words and sentences to communicate effectively.

A significant proportion of students with learning difficulties in reading, writing, spelling and maths have 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.

What oral language problems affect reading and spelling development?

Oral language skills are a crucial foundation skill for later literacy learning. 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 may not pronounce sounds correctly
  • Phonological awareness (awareness of sounds and sound patterns in words) – children need struggle to break up and blend sounds in words and be aware of rhyming words
  • Vocabulary –children may not know and understand a huge variety of words
  • Rapid naming and word retrieval— children may not be able to quickly recall words to communicate fluently
  • Story telling (narrative) skills—if children have difficulties telling and understanding a story then reading and writing a story may be challenging
  • Comprehension skills—children may not understand what others say or have difficulties follow directions and comprehending questions
  • Grammar—children may have difficulties talk in grammatically correct sentences
  • Reasoning – children may struggle to problem solve, predict and infer meanings from language

How can speech pathologists help?


Speech pathologists utilise a range of specialist skills, resources and techniques to assist children with language based learning difficulties in reading and spelling.

They can work closely with a child’s teacher so that intervention is linked to what is happening in the classroom.

Speech pathologists identify any underlying oral language difficulties as early as possible that may be limiting a child’s reading and spelling skills. They then 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.