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The Link Between Language and Literacy

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Updated on
Modified on November 1, 2023
Quick Takeaway
Language and literacy are deeply intertwined, shaping human comprehension and communication. Language enables us to express thoughts and emotions, while literacy allows us to decipher written information, enhancing our knowledge and ability to empathize. These skills are fundamental to individual and societal development, supporting academic success and nurturing informed citizenship. As children progress from producing vocal sounds to reading, it is vital to provide them with a language-rich environment. Coupled with early interventions addressing any challenges, students can realize their full potential.

Language and literacy, two cornerstones of human communication and cognition, are intricately woven threads that shape our understanding and expression. Language is the medium through which we verbally or gesturally communicate our thoughts, emotions, and ideas, creating bridges that connect us to one another. Literacy, on the other hand, gives us the power to decode written symbols, unlocking the doors to knowledge, imagination, and empathy.

While language and literacy may sound like two separate entities, rather, they build upon each other and work together in fostering language development. The symbiotic relationship between language and literacy isn’t just a matter of learning grammar rules or deciphering texts; it’s a fundamental cognitive process that shapes our neural pathways, enriches our perspectives, and empowers us to navigate the complexities of the world around us.

Introduction to the Importance of Language and Literacy

Whether you speak English as your primary language, are bilingual, or are even multilingual, language serves as a bridge that connects people across borders, while literacy (a close companion of language) opens the doors to knowledge and understanding. Language enables us to build relationships, negotiate, and collaborate, consequently forming the bedrock of society. Literacy propels us toward advancement. 

The importance of language and literacy becomes even more evident with age. In fact, strong language and literacy skills are foundational for academic success across all subjects. These skills empower individuals to articulate their ideas, advocate for their needs, and contribute to their communities. Being able to read and understand diverse viewpoints makes for informed and engaged citizens who can empathize and connect with their communities.

That’s why it’s so important to put a focus on language skills during childhood. Young children start communicating in the form of sounds until they are able to form words. As they get older and their language develops, they begin to match sounds with written letters and words, which grow into reading skills. If a child struggles with developing reading skills, early literacy intervention is recommended and accessible in most public school districts or clinical settings.

The Stages of Language Development

Language development is a major milestone in a child’s development. Language development occurs in various stages as individuals progress from infancy to adulthood. These stages generally follow a predictable pattern, although the exact timing and progression can vary for each person.

  • Prelinguistic Stage: In the first language stage, infants develop the foundational skills necessary for language acquisition, such as making cooing and babbling sounds and responding to familiar sounds and voices.

  • Holophrastic or One-Word Stage: During this stage, children begin to use single words to convey entire ideas or meanings. These words can cover a wide range of concepts and may involve gestures or intonation to help express their intentions.

  • Two-Word Stage (Telegraphic Stage): This stage is when children start combining two words to form simple phrases, often omitting less essential words like articles and prepositions. Their speech becomes more structured and follows basic grammatical patterns.

  • Early Multiword Stage: Children continue to expand their vocabulary and combine new words to create more complex sentences in this stage. They begin to use basic grammar rules and may ask simple questions.

  • Late Multiword Stage: Language becomes more sophisticated at this point as children use longer sentences and develop more advanced grammatical structures. They begin to use pronouns, conjunctions, and more complex verb tenses.

  • Mature Language Stage: By this stage, children have acquired a substantial vocabulary and a firm grasp of grammar. They can communicate effectively, tell stories, and engage in more complex conversations. Reading and writing skills also develop during this stage.

  • Adolescence and Adulthood: This is the time of continual refinement and expansion of language skills. Language skills continue to develop throughout adolescence and adulthood as individuals refine their communication abilities, acquire specialized vocabulary related to various subjects, and adapt their language to different contexts and audiences.

The Role Of Language In Literacy Acquisition

The relationship between language and literacy is symbiotic, each nurturing the development of the other. In the journey of literacy, language acts as both the vehicle and the destination. Fluent readers are good at decoding words on a page as well as grasping the nuanced meanings and context behind them. The ability to decipher the structure of sentences, understand the meanings of words in different contexts, and interpret the intended tone or message all rely on a strong foundation and overall competency in language.

Teachers and educators play a pivotal role in harnessing the power of language to facilitate literacy acquisition. By creating language-rich environments that encourage meaningful interactions, they provide the fertile ground in which literacy skills can flourish. They are also the ones who provide intervention and resources to those who need extra help in language development, such as students with disabilities or students learning English as a second language. 

As children become adept at connecting letters with sounds, they enhance their ability to read and spell words accurately. This phonics-based approach synergizes with language skills, enabling young learners to effectively bridge the gap between spoken and written language. Reading aloud, engaging in discussions, and encouraging creative writing promote language development and nurture the essential connections between language and literacy.

Strategies To Promote Language And Literacy Development

Promoting language and literacy development is crucial for children’s cognitive, social, and academic growth. Both language and literacy are building blocks for effective communication, critical thinking, and academic success. Explore these strategies for successful literacy development:

  • Interactive Reading Sessions: Educators should engage children in meaningful conversations while reading aloud to them. Encourage them to predict what might happen next in the story, discuss the characters’ emotions and motivations, and ask open-ended questions that spark their imagination. Connecting their thoughts to oral language and eventually written form are both opportunities to apply and exercise their literacy skills. 

  • Word-Rich Environments: Creating a language-rich environment can have a big impact on a child’s ability to learn languages. Educators should surround students with interactive learning tools and labels around the classroom, and give them ample access to books. They should also have frequent talks where new terms and ideas are introduced, implications are explained, and their ideas are welcomed. 

  • Multilingual Exposure: If a child is raised in a multilingual home, they should be encouraged to learn and use all available languages. Multilingualism may also improve cognitive flexibility and problem-solving abilities.

  • Storytelling and Creative Expression: Educators should encourage children to create their own stories, whether through drawing, writing, verbal expression, or body language such as facial expressions. Storytelling fosters creativity, helps children organize their thoughts, and improves their ability to sequence events logically.

  • Technology and Apps: Educators should select educational applications and online materials that emphasize language and literacy development. Technology captures the attention of very young children and can hold their interest, which is beneficial when developing language literacy. Balance screen time with other activities, as technology alone cannot wholly foster literacy development.

The Connection Between Language, Literacy, And Academic Success

The intricate interplay between language and literacy forms the basis of effective communication and serves as a catalyst for cognitive development and scholastic achievement. Language proficiency alone is not enough; literacy is its indispensable companion. Literacy extends beyond the basic ability to read and write. It encompasses the skills needed for reading comprehension, analyzing, and synthesizing information from various sources. To learn a chunk of material, students must be able to first understand spoken and written language, as well as be able to express their thoughts verbally and through written form. 

The connection between language, literacy, and academic success is a symbiotic relationship that cannot be underestimated. As educators, nurturing language and literacy skills in the early years lays the groundwork for unlocking a world of learning opportunities.

Addressing Language and Literacy Challenges

Language and literacy challenges can create barriers that impede students’ ability to grasp new concepts and engage with their peers. Very young children will show early literacy behaviors that can help predict their path to academic success. Children grappling with reading difficulties might experience frustration with English language arts, leading to a decline in their enthusiasm for learning. 

To tackle these challenges, a multifaceted approach is necessary and may need to be individualized. Schools and educational institutions can implement targeted interventions to provide extra support to students struggling with language and literacy. This might include specialized reading programs, one-on-one tutoring, and assistive technologies.


From the first day of life, children are exposed to and absorbing language. Having a literacy-rich environment is a determining factor in how successful they will be academically. Language and literacy will coincide through all stages of language development and should be nurtured in a way that makes each student as successful as they can be because every student has the right to be successful in school and life. 

As the reading, writing, and math intervention specialists, our solutions offer comprehension instruction to develop language and literacy skills and supports such as our Sound Library. Learn more about our evidence-based programs and how we can support language and literacy in your school.

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