This essay will explain the development of language and print literacy in early childhood by defining four primary components of this process: oral language; grapho-phonic decoding; phonological and phonemic awareness; and language comprehension. It will also explain how these skills and abilities contribute towards the development of language and print literacy.

Oral Language

Is a system that enables people to apply spoken words and share knowledge, feelings, and ideas. Oral language is about acquisition of knowledge and skills for listening and speaking and is, therefore, essential in reading comprehension and writing. According to Moats (2020), oral language comprises vocabulary, syntax, pragmatics, morphological and phonological skills. All these components of oral language aid communication and learning through conversation.


It typically develops when the child is 0 to 72 months (Fellowes & Oakley 2019: 80). The first phase is Pre-linguistic stage, which lasts between 0 and 12 months. Within the first 4 weeks after birth, babies listen to a variety of sounds in their environment and eventually learn to distinguish the sounds based on sources. Response to voices and differentiation of own voice, reaction to familiar and unfamiliar faces, and verbal responsiveness continue to develop as the children advance through the months. By 12 months, a child responds when spoken to, know his or her name, recognises names of objects, and utters a few receptive vocabulary.

Linguistic speech is the second stage, where children start to listen to and follow simple instructions. Their expressive language involves learning of numerous single words, application of single-words, and extensive use of nouns. By the time children reach 18 months, they are capable of applying about 50 words, imitating people around them, and singing. After this, a child enters to stage three linguistic speech, where they use words to make phrases.

This happens between 2 and 3 years and the children can listen to stories and rhymes more attentively. Children also understand and follow two-step commands. Their vocabulary undergo significant growth so that a two-year-old has about 200 receptive vocabulary while a 3-year-old has about 1000. At age of 3, children can ask questions and offer brief arguments.

Contribution of Oral Language to Print Literacy

The skills that students acquire in syntax, morphology, and pragmatics enables the comparison and differentiation of meaning contained in sentences, paragraphs, and dialogues. Syntax knowledge improves mastery of word order and grammatical rules while morphology helps learners identify the smallest meaningful sections that lay the foundation for word creation (such as suffices and prefixes).

On the other hand, pragmatics promote awareness of the social rules that regulate communication. Pragmatics direct how people talk when they have different purposes, how they engage with particular audiences, and the type of message they share in various contexts. When one has to create meaning out of a text, pragmatics enhance comprehension by equipping students with the correct ideas on norms and types of conventions for communicating with other people.

Phonological and Phonemic Awareness

Phonological awareness refers to knowledge of sound structures of a language. It develops before a child commences schooling and goes on through third and later grades. After learning the individual sounds (phoneme) or the system of sounds (phonology) contained in a given language, phonological working memory enables students to store information about a speech-sound.

When necessary, phonological retrieval enables students to remember the phoneme-grapheme correlations that relate to the concerned phonics instruction (Wagner & Torgeson 1987). Phonemic awareness instruction contributes to later reading development. Therefore, high phonemic awareness predicts higher chances of later reading success while lower phonemic awareness shows deficits.


Phonological awareness develops through early phonological, later phonological, and advanced phonemic awareness skills. In early phonological awareness stage, the child recognises syllables and familiarises with onset-rime segments. At the later phase, children start to blend and segment different individual phonemes. Finally, at advanced phonemic awareness stage a child can manipulate phonemes through substituting, deleting, and reversing phonemes. This happens as they enter third grade and onwards.

Contribution to Student’s Print Literacy Development

Phonological awareness enables students to recognise the sound constituents by phonemes, syllables, and rhymes. Spoken words correspond with written words hence readers must recognise the speech sounds represented by letters and their combinations, so as to change them from printed to spoken word in the reading process (Moats 2020). It also builds the learners capacity to utilise the sounds in spoken language, thereby enabling decoding, blending and reading of words. Sounds awareness in spoken language simplifies the learning of letter-sound correspondences, blending of sound combinations for word decoding, and mapping of words to form long-term vocabulary.

A student with phonological awareness difficulties face challenges with reading while others with good phonological awareness have higher potential of turning into good readers. Phonemic awareness also enables students to categorise words based of sound similarity or dissimilarity, split or blend syllables, create words by blending sounds, and segment words based on sound sequence. Teachers can also use phonemic awareness to predict reading difficulties at kindergarten or first grade levels, and implement appropriate measures so the children develop and improve in this area.

Grapho-phonic Decoding

Phonics refer to mapping of sounds of a language to create graphemes. The term also defines the strategy employed by readers to decode and encode words. People with reading difficulties often struggle decoding (Pressley & Allington 2014). Challenges with decoding interfere with comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. A child that experiences decoding challenges can become frustrated and even start believing that he or she is incapable of reading. Decoding is about identifying what words in a text mean. In the process of decoding, readers rely on their vocabulary, contextual and phonic understanding.


Grapho-phonic decoding happens in stages described by Ehri. In first stage, pre-alphabetic, children use prior experiences to understand the relationship between symbols and words. The children in this stage lack alphabetic knowledge, or have little, and use visual cues to identify words (Holly 2020: 2). Pictures, context clues, and guessing help a child in this stage recognize words.  This stage followed by partial-alphabetic phase, where children begin to realise that letters or letter clusters (graphemes) represent speech sounds (phonemes). Generally what the children here do is phonetic cue reading but with incomplete connections.

The sound of first letter and the involved context enables children in this phase to guess words they are not yet familiar with. The third stage is full alphabetic phase, where phonological recording and conversion of graphemes enables students to access the words (Holly 2020: 3). Full alphabetic phase has better reliability compared to the earlier stages as a child acquires working understanding of several letter-sound correspondences, possesses phonic awareness, and can apply decoding skills to read new words. This stage occurs in later kindergarten or at the start of first grade.

Contribution to Student’s Print Literacy Development

Grapho-phonic cues helps readers to identify unfamiliar words by comparing speech sounds to letters and letter patterns, or to decode. In other words, grapho-phonic cues enable students to create meaning, or discover if a word makes sense. Again, it helps students to utilise letter-sound structure in predicting the possible next word. When educators teach phonics systematically to students, they are more capable of decoding, spelling, and comprehending texts.

Language Comprehension

Is the ability to understand that which is heard or read. Language comprehension is more sophisticated than phonemic awareness as it requires one to possess a broad set skills and processes.  Primary areas involved in language comprehension include vocabulary, syntax, and background knowledge.

Vocabulary is about identification of words and what they mean while syntax about knowledge of how to arrange words when in need of conveying a given meaning. Background knowledge relates to prior knowledge or experience with that which is being read or said, and memory of the form of interaction. Other involved processes include cognition, working memory, phonology, and other language experiences.


Language comprehension develops during the pre-reading stages as children learn letters, sounds, phrases, as well as words and their meaning. At this stage also, children learn to hold books and turn pages, visit places and gain new experience, and by listening to the sentences and vocabulary people around them use when speaking. The three stages of oral language development (explained under “oral language”) also apply to language comprehension.

At pre-linguistic stage, children start listening to sounds of a language and eventually distinguish sounds that belong to that language from others. In linguistic speech stages, a child begins to understand instructions, stories, and rhymes in the given language and grows their vocabulary. At stage 5, where they begin using language, the children are 6 years old and are receptive to around 25,000 vocabulary (Fellowes & Oakley 2019: 83). They also know how to behave under different contexts, can share feelings or ideas, and begin to read and understand the language.

Contribution to Students’ Literacy Development

When students finally understand the need for language comprehension and the proper use of words, the students will speak the language effortlessly. This skill also helps students to understand both the written and spoken language by letting them identify the meaning of the words and how they are integrated to form sentences. By enhancing children’s understanding of various elements of written and spoken language, language comprehension improves reading comprehension or the ability of the student to understand what they read.


This essay has identified the different phases of early literacy development and provided information that can help educators and families to establish strategies for supporting language and literacy development in young children. From this essay, teachers can understand the importance and relevance of grapho-phonic development, oral language, language comprehension and phonological and phonemic awareness on language development and print literacy.