Tbks2 Blog

I CAN Advisor, Jonothan Wright, explains the impact delayed language can have on children in key stage 2 and beyond

Delayed language skills are not just a problem for children in the early years or the start of primary school. For some children and young people with delayed language, their difficulties can persist into key stage 2 / upper primary school and beyond. There are many reasons for delayed language skills and we know that living in an area of deprivation increases the risk.

Moving into middle and upper primary school, the demands on children’s language skills increase. Almost all learning involves spoken language skills but from 7-11 years old this language becomes increasingly abstract, based less on direct hands-on learning and is delivered at a faster pace. Even familiar vocabulary takes on new meaning – for example, “Just fill in this table” can be confusing. I sit at the table – how do I fill it in?! – and while a child is busy thinking about that, they have missed the next two parts of the instruction! Children with delayed language skills are at risk of falling behind even further.

Language skills are important for so much more than literacy and learning; as friendships become increasingly important to children through their primary years, they need language to socialise – to make friends, share their feelings, chat about things they have been doing outside of school and so on. Jokes, sarcasm and friendly banter all rely on good spoken language skills. Without these, children with delayed language skills are at risk of social isolation.

Given the right support, these children have the potential to catch up with their typically-developing peers – meaning that they will no longer struggle with understanding or using language in the classroom, playground or elsewhere. A boost to spoken language skills will have a knock-on effect on their written work, vocabulary, problem solving and engagement with learning in general. In time these effects will be seen in improved literacy and maths scores at the end of primary school.

So what helps? Clear language models from adults, maintaining the visual support children get in early years and lower primary (with adaptations to suit the age group), games in which to practice and then extend basic skills, learning strategies that they can then use with greater independence back in the classroom … and so on. Fortunately, I CAN have neatly packaged these ideas up in a small group language intervention for 7-10 year olds – Talk Boost KS2. In our trial, 67% of children caught up with their peers in understanding language and 85% of parents saw their child’s language improve.

Good language skills are essential for learning and especially with reading and writing, and therefore they should be a priority for all schools. Children with delayed language skills don’t have to continue struggling to understand or express themselves. With the right support and focus on language skills through the primary years, we can help children and young people to improve their life chances.