St John's President publishes article on language and its effect on children's reading comprehension

Date 18 October 2019

Professors Maggie Snowling and Charles Hulme at the University of Oxford have published a paper on reading comprehension in children with dyslexia and developmental language disorder.

Professor Maggie SnowlingThe paper, entitled ‘Dyslexia and developmental language disorder: comorbid disorders with distinct effects on reading comprehension’, is about to be published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. The paper is based on research carried out as part of the Wellcome Language and Reading Project and involved three groups of 9-year-old children who had dyslexia, Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), or both.

The aim of reading is to turn the written symbols on the page into a meaningful message. To do this, children must translate the symbols into spoken words, and then use their knowledge of spoken language to put understand what the meaning of the text.

Children with developmental language disorder struggle to understand during reading but their difficulties can be hidden because they do not have trouble with the mechanics, or ‘decoding’, of reading. This underlines the importance of oral language as the basis for reading and of screening oral language to identify children who might otherwise go unnoticed and not be able to what they read in lessons.

The research carried out by the team has shown that:

  • Children with dyslexia have difficulties understanding what they read because they struggle to translate written symbols into spoken words.
  • Children with developmental language disorder have significant difficulties because they struggle with their knowledge of spoken language; they can translate the written words into speech but then find it hard to extract the meaning from a text.
  • The most severe reading comprehension difficulties are experienced by children who have both dyslexia and DLD because they struggle written words into speech and also have problems understanding those words.  These findings show that children who enter school with poor oral language skills are at high risk of reading difficulties.  They also make clear that different forms of intervention are required to improve reading comprehension depending on the causes of the difficulties.  Importantly evidenced-based interventions can promote reading and language skills in children at high risk of poor literacy attainment.