Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Listening and Reading

As a child grows, two important skills he develops are listening and reading. Listening skills appear first, as a child learns to speak by imitating the sounds of the people around him. In general, in early life, listening comprehension, which is ‘understanding the meaning of spoken words’, is distinct from reading comprehension, which is ‘understanding the meaning of written words.’ However, the difference between the two dissipates as the child ages.

In simple terms, this means that listening comprehension is much more important until the child learns to read more complex material efficiently. At that point, listening comprehension and reading comprehension are so closely related, there is little difference. Because of this, in this lesson, we will focus on the early years of a child’s life and how listening and reading comprehension develop and are interlinked.

Learning to Listen

Listening comprehension must develop first in life. As a child, you hear people around you speaking and learn to imitate the sounds. This is why where one grows up during the years of language development is so important. For example, if you are in England, you will learn to imitate an English accent as opposed to an American one. Each child must listen to sounds of a language, not only to learn to reproduce those sounds and communicate, but later on, when learning to read, to associate those sounds to different letters and words.

For most children, babbling begins between three and six months old. Babbling in this context happens when the child begins to experiment with making sounds, but none of which are actual words. This stage shows how a child’s listening skills are beginning to develop.

By 18 to 24 months of age, the child will usually be able to string two words together. This is the stage where listening comprehension really begins because the sounds will begin to be associated with meaning. This occurs through phonology, which is ‘the system of using combinations of sounds for communication.’ Children will begin to use phonemes, which are ‘a unit of sound’, and combine them to make meaning. For example, a child will learn that saying ‘Momma up’ will mean he will be picked up by his mother. By saying this, the child is constructing meaning using several phonemes. Next, we will see how letters will represent phonemes, which is the beginning of reading.

Learning to Read

After this point, listening comprehension skyrockets and reading is just starting. Children at this age usually have been exposed to the letters of the alphabet, and the beginning of associating a sound with a letter will be seen. During kindergarten, those phonemes begin to be associated with the corresponding letters, which is known as decoding. For example, the ‘SPR’ in ‘spring’ is one phoneme used in English. Children will begin to associate that sound with those letters. Furthermore, children will learn simple combinations of letters to make words. This process shows how listening comprehension is the foundation for reading comprehension.

As reading skills develop, actual reading comprehension begins to occur during first and second grade. Basically, this means the child can decrease the amount of time spent decoding a word and comprehend what the written words communicate at a faster rate. At this point, listening comprehension is still years ahead of reading comprehension, but this does not last.

Narrowing the Gap

As the years of school go on from here, the gap between listening and reading comprehension begins to disappear. This is because reading comprehension enhances at a rapid pace. During this time the child develops morphology, which is the system of combining word parts to make written communication. A morpheme is a unit of meaning in a word. For instance, the word ‘act’ is a whole word but also one morpheme. If you add another morpheme, like ‘or’ to it, it becomes ‘actor.’ This new word maintains the original meaning of act, but adds the extra meaning of a person who acts. As a child learns common morphemes, they spend little to no time decoding and reading comprehension increases.

Overall Relationship

Now that we have seen the process of how listening comprehension and reading comprehension co-develop, we can easily see how one can affect the other. Mainly, that if a child struggled early on with listening comprehension, reading comprehension may also be difficult to develop due to the troubles with decoding. The good news is that with time, as a student increases his reading comprehension, then listening comprehension will also increase.

In cases where this might not happen, there are specific activities you can do to help a student improve his listening comprehension. For instance, increase the times when you read direction aloud or give information in a lesson aloud and have the student write down what you say. Activities like this and increased reading practice will help strengthen both listening and reading comprehension.

Lesson Summary

To review, listening and reading comprehension have a close relationship. Listening skills develop first, as a child learns to babble, or mimic sounds spoken by those around him. Next comes the development of phonemes, which are units of sound. This stage shows the early signs of listening comprehension, as the child can now relate sound to communication.

Without developing this type of listening comprehension, then reading skills will be extremely difficult to develop. The foundation of reading begins when the child starts to decode, which is to relate sounds to specific letters of the alphabet. This, in turn, leads to learning morphemes, which are units of words that have meaning. The child will then grow more and more proficient at reading as he increases his reading comprehension. This is the point where listening and reading comprehension become closely related.

As the years continue and the child’s reading comprehension continues to improve, listening comprehension will become more of an afterthought. It can always be worked on if needed by the student, but usually the need for this decreases with age.

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