Believe in the reach of speech

2nd September 2011 at 01:00

This article was originally published in Talk, Listen, Take Part - a special supplement produced by the TES to a brief agreed with The Communication Trust. Thesupplement was paid for by The Communication Champion and BT.

See the full supplement as a digital edition.

Hello, I'm Jean Gross, the Communication Champion for children. I regularly meet headteachers and teachers who are concerned about the number of children and young people with limited vocabularies, difficulties expressing themselves and who struggle to listen and understand language.

Recent Government statistics show there has been a 58 per cent rise over the past five years in the number of children identified by their teachers as having special needs in this area. This TES supplement showcases the superb work taking place around the country to tackle the problem. It gives examples of the support available from The Communication Trust through the Hello campaign - 2011 national year of communication.

Vocabulary at age five is a strong predictor of how many GCSEs a child will later achieve, and the best predictor of whether those who experience social deprivation in childhood are able to escape poverty as adults. Good communication skills are increasingly necessary in a service-driven economy, yet 47 per cent of UK employers say they cannot get recruits with the oral language skills needed.

Links between behaviour problems and poor language are strong. Two-thirds of those at risk of exclusion from school have speech, language and communication difficulties, as do 60 per cent of young offenders - in only 5 per cent of cases was this known before they entered the criminal justice system.

It is really important that we do focus on improving all children's oral language skills, and getting the right help for those who struggle. As many recent national Ofsted reports have noted, outstanding schools are those in which speaking and listening is high priority - like the schools featured here.

Follow this timeline of what to expect at different ages to help you recognise good progress and potential problems.

BY AGE FIVE, CHILDREN SHOULD BE ABLE TO:

Ask, understand and answer "what", "where", "when" and "what could we do next" questions.

Use speech that is easy to understand, although it may still have immaturities.

Join phrases with words such as "if", "because", "so" and "could".

Describe events but not always joined together or in the right order.

BY AGE SEVEN, CHILDREN SHOULD BE ABLE TO:

Show good understanding of sounds and words important for reading and spelling.

Know key points to focus on to answer a question or follow an instruction and begin to ignore less important information. Ask questions to find out specific information, including "how" and "why".

Tell a story with key components in place - setting the scene, a basic plot and reasonably well-ordered sequence of events.

BY AGE 9, CHILDREN SHOULD BE ABLE TO:

Infer meaning, reason and predict.

Use a range of words related to time and measurement.

Use a whole range of regular and unusual word endings, with few errors being made.

Understand the interests of the listener.

Use language for a range of different reasons, eg complimenting or criticising, clarifying and negotiating.

BY AGE 11, CHILDREN SHOULD BE ABLE TO:

Begin to appreciate sarcasm, eg "My best vase, broken - that was really clever".

Use sophisticated words but meaning might not always be accurate, eg "We had to corporate to get the task done".

Tell elaborate, entertaining stories that are full of detailed descriptions.

Manage and organise collaborative tasks.

Explain some rules of grammar and know when a sentence is not grammatically correct.

BY AGE 1314, CHILDREN SHOULD BE ABLE TO:

Understand instructions that don't follow the same order as words in the sentence, eg before you get your equipment, decide who you are working with and what positions you are playing.

Infer meaning, working out information not given directly, eg she grabbed her coat and ran out of the door (she was in a hurry). Understand the difference between the style of talk used with friends to that needed in the classroom.

Use sarcasm to interact with peers and familiar adults.

BY AGE 18, YOUNG PEOPLE SHOULD BE ABLE TO:

Know when and why they don't understand and ask for help with what they are struggling with, eg "I understand you mix the ingredients together, I'm just not sure what they mean by `fold'".

Be more skilful in discussions and use a range of arguments to persuade others.

Understand well the words that are used in questions in exams and the classroom.

Use a good range of more difficult words and phrases, eg exhausted, meandered, noxious, incessant.

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