How do listening skills help with literacy development?

25 July 2017

The textbook definition of reading is: ‘to look at and understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols, etc.’ (Merriam-Webster, 2015). Most people might assume from this definition that reading is a visual skill, based on the first three words ‘to look at’. However, the key word that should be attended to here is ‘understand.’ Research has shown that children who have typical hearing are better readers than children who have hearing loss. However, there is evidence to say that children who have hearing loss who attend therapy to learn to listen are better readers than those who do not undertake this kind of therapy (Robertson, 2012) … but why?

Skills for literacy begin developing well before a child learns how to ‘sound out words’ or even recognise text. It begins when a child first starts to listen. Before phonics or spelling, in order to understand what is read, a person must have vocabulary. They must understand meanings behind words to be able to make sense of what they are reading or to be able to string these words together to create written text. This understanding of language begins with everyday conversation which exposes a child to information and words in a variety of contexts, routines and situations that help reinforce their meaning on a daily basis. Not only this, children become used to the patterns of language such as grammar and sentence formation. Some of the earliest learning of these formations is through rhymes and singing. This of course, all occurs through…. listening! 

For argument’s sake, let’s pretend we can skip the whole ‘understanding’ and ‘vocabulary’ bit and jump straight into learning phonics and how to sound out words which is what most people define as reading. It is great that the child can read a sentence, but then what does this sentence mean to a child who doesn’t have the vocabulary to understand the words within it? Will they remember what they read? Will they learn anything from what was read? For example read this sentence: Le poulet est dans la fenêtre. Did you sound it out? Great! What did that mean to you? Will you remember it? Can you tell someone else about it? No you can’t (unless you know French) because it’s a language you don’t understand. For those interested it means ‘the chicken is in the window.’ The fact is a person needs to have meaning attached to words they encounter in order to be able to read. Research has shown that how much spoken language a person knows will actually predict how well they can learn to read and write. (Robertson, 2012)

Reading of course does not just stop at a great vocabulary. The next step of reading continues with phonological awareness which is ‘the knowledge about the sound structure of words, from syllables to phonemes’ (the sounds a single letter makes) and phonemic awareness which is ‘awareness of individual phonemes within a word’ (Speech-Language-Therapy Dot Com, 2015) This also means that a person will know how to identify the sound a word starts with, ends with, what sound is in the middle of the word and how to count syllables, rhyme words or manipulate words (e.g. if I have the word ‘spring’ and take away the ‘sp’ what word is left?). Phonological awareness is what helps us ultimately do the ‘sounding-out’ process that the majority of the population refers to as ‘learning to read.’ From this explanation of phonological awareness, you might then come to the conclusion that the physical  act of reading is not about knowing the name of a letter, it’s about being able to identify the sound that corresponds with that letter. 

A person needs to be able to listen in order to learn to read and luckily, Auditory-Verbal Therapy’s main aim is to promote the acquisition of spoken language through listening. Building your child’s audition skills from a young age is putting them in a very good place for building those strong foundations for later literacy skills. 

Some examples as mentioned previously for doing this are exposure to music and singing. Melodies and fluctuations in pitch and rhythm capture a child’s attention and are therefore more memorable. Think about when your child learned their first words to a song (e.g. ‘twinkle twinkle little star’). They probably were able to sing this four word phrase before they were able to use any other four word phrase in conversation. Singing and children’s rhymes are a stepping stone to building auditory memory, connecting words to meaning, and understanding sentence structure. In addition to this, reading books with your child even before they can recognise print or have any idea of what a word is will create opportunities for learning or reinforcing new words as these new words spoken are paired with a visual story that can be followed or discussed. The words on the page at this stage are actually a lot less important than your joint attention to the book and commentary and expansions on what is happening in each picture as you can tailor the words to suit your child’s age and level of interest in the story. Remember, interest  and motivation equals more memory retention. 

 Last but not least, lots and lots of talking to your child in these early stages will help them build their vocabulary and memory for when and how to use specific words, how to form questions, answer questions, make statements or exclamations and how a sentence is simply strung together.

In summary, it is important to understand that literacy is a continuum and it begins from the moment your child is listening!



Merriam-Webster: An encyclopaedic Britannica Company (2015). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster. com/dictionary/read 

Robertson, L. (2012). What does auditory-verbal therapy and education have to do with reading and writing? In W. Estabrooks (Ed.), 101 frequently asked questions about auditory-verbal practice (pp. 312-315).
Washington, DC: Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Speech-Language-Therapy Dot Com. (2015). Phoneme awareness therapy. Retrieved from http://


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