Pathways to language development

Subha Vaidyanathan

word-wall Over the last few years there has been a noticeable decline in the reading habits of students. Among the various reasons for this, video games and other gadgets are thought to top the list. Research has shown that excessive visual stimulation can be detrimental to concentration and can take away interest from the printed word affecting language skills of students. Difficulties with English as Second language (ESL) also play a part for some children. Further, in the language building progression of listening, speaking, reading, and writing, our school systems tend to focus more on writing. The other three aspects, which are more important for language building, get sidelined. Lastly, language demands of the various Boards are quite high and often the gap between this and the child’s language level is large. When the medium of instruction is itself not comprehensible, it affects the attention, interest, and behaviour of children in the class, thus impacting their academic performance.

There are homes where children are both exposed to English and also encouraged to read and listen to stories early on. Children in these homes not only grow up with a lot of books around them but also get to play language games. Language games (like word building, word ending, etc.) have the dual effect of encouraging bonding among family members and inculcating an interest in language. On the other hand, there are children who have little or no exposure to English at home. This could limit their pronunciation skills, vocabulary, comprehension and expression, and therefore leads to a struggle with the language.

What is language?
As we all know the components of language are:
• phonology (system of sounds) – that helps in accurate pronunciation and spellings,
• morphology (word parts) – that helps to understand the meaning of words better,
• semantics – vocabulary,
• syntax – which is the sentence structure and
• pragmatics – which is the social conventions of language.

There could be deficits in each of these areas affecting the receptive and expressive language of children.

  • Many children are unable to read as reading instruction is not explicit in primary classes and children are expected to start reading on their own. The textbooks too are often not graded for readability.
  • There are some children who can read but are unable to understand the vocabulary or use them appropriately.
  • Some others can understand but are unable to express themselves and
  • A last group who have oral language but struggle with written expression.

So it is important that each of the language areas be built consciously for the whole class by the English as well as subject teachers.

The author is a special educator who has worked for many years with children with dyslexia and also in training school teachers with remedial methodology for the whole class. Her current focus is scholastic backwardness and language. She can be reached at

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