Language comprehension


​​​Language comprehension refers to the ability to understand language through any modality (listening, reading, symbols, sign language etc).

Although there are certainly some differences between spoken and written language, comprehending language in text requires the full set of linguistic skills needed to comprehend spoken language. These include locating individual words in memory, determining the intended meaning of individual words (many of which have multiple meanings), understanding sentences and understanding the text structure (e.g., story compared to an histo​rical account compared to scientific report etc). Many students show strengths in their spoken and written language comprehension. Others may experience difficulties.

Language comprehension and reading difficulties​​​

Students with language comprehension difficulties may show strong word reading skills but difficulties comprehending the language of texts. They may not understand what they read, despite appearing to read accurately and fluently. While these students may make a strong start in the early years of school when learning to read, their comprehension difficulties become more evident as they move into the middle and upper primary years, where texts become more complex.

Students with a language comprehension difficulty may have an underlying language disorder. Lang​uage disorder may be associated with disabilities including autism, intellectual disability or hearing loss, or may present as a primary Developmental Language Disorder (DLD).

Language comprehension difficulties can be subtle and therefore, can be challenging for parents and teachers to identify. Sometimes the first indication that a student requires further support to develop their language skills is their difficulties with learning to read.

Language disorders: Unde​​rstand​​​

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is diagnosed when children present with persistent difficulty producing or understanding language for no apparent reason (Bishop, Snowling, Thompson, Greenhalgh, CATALISE consortium 2017). Learning to read is a complex and dynamic system with multiple points of vulnerability for children with DLD (Catts, Nielsen, Bridges and Liu 2016; Murphy, Justice, O’Connell, Pentimonti and Kaderavek 2016). Children with persistent language difficulties are highly likely to experience reading comprehension difficulties in components of word reading, listening comprehension or both.

Infographic – DLD and reading

Infographic – DLD and writing

Language disorders: Strate​​​gies​​

​Investigation of the language skills that underpin the components of reading comprehension—word reading and listening comprehension—allows speech language pathologists to develop a reader profile. This profile of strengths and challenges in language and in reading comprehension informs evidence-based interventions, instructional strategies and differentiated curriculum delivery.

Research findings (Beck, McKeown and Kucan 2013) point to the need to create classrooms that support and encourage sophisticated language usage through a rich oral language environment. There are a variety of approaches that may be implemented to support language development in the classroom. Some are briefly outlined in the following infographics.

Infographic – Explicit vocabulary instruction

Infographic – Read it Again – FoundationQ!

Infographic – Tell it Again Q1!

Infographic – Words are my superpower​

Last updated 25 March 2024