Dyslexia and its Link to Oral Language


Dyslexia and its Link to Oral Language

Dyslexia and oral language are complex topics. Stanislas Dehaene in Reading in the Brain states that a number of traits define dyslexia in that reading difficulty can not be attributed to cognitive difficulties, sensory deficits or environment as might be seen in an underprivileged background.

Mark Seidenberg writes persuasively that dyslexia is notoriously difficult to identify partly because it is an emergent condition, the best treatment being prevention before reading difficulties become entrenched in a child.

Seidenberg adds that accurate and definitive diagnosis of dyslexia in many cases may not be be possible until a child is ten or eleven years of age, which is often too late for effective intervention outcomes. Seidenberg also makes the point that dyslexia and forms of developmental language disorders can co-occur. 

As educators, an understanding of dyslexia and its link to oral language is crucial for developing effective strategies to empower students to overcome reading difficulties.

Dyslexia refers to a specific learning difficulty that affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.

It's important to understand that a dyslexia diagnosis is not a reflection of a student's intelligence level or laziness, but more a means of identifying how our brains process written and spoken language.


Education researchers have acknowledged the close relationship between dyslexia and oral language skills, most notably the language domains of phonemic and phonological awareness.

Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words, whereas phonological awareness, as the term suggests, is an awareness of how spoken language in all its forms is made up of smaller components and our ability to not only identify these parts of speech, but manipulate them.

In people with dyslexia, a significant obstacle to successful reading skills is related to having poor phonemic awareness skills. This specific language deficit interrupts and distorts the link between oral language and being able to decode and interpret written language. This difficulty is initially identified in early years with a student's word reading difficulties but extends to and affects reading fluency and reading rate (reading speed).

A key consideration when attempting to accurately diagnose dyslexia, must be to first determine whether obstacles with learning to read are symptomatic of actual reading impairment or a result of confounding factors.

In other words, does a child present with underlying cognitive and/or developmental language difficulties, or is the child a victim of ineffective literacy teaching approaches?

Dyslexia and its Link to Oral Language - Reading Speed

Diagnosing dyslexia with accuracy involves a comprehensive understanding of a student's reading accuracy, reading speed, reading fluency, and comprehension of text.

The link between dyslexia and reduced reading speed has been well established and is worthy of specific assessment and intervention. Students with dyslexia tend to read at a reduced rate because of a persistent struggle with decoding individual words, which has a flow on effect on reading rate and reading comprehension.

Students with persistent difficulties with reading rate and reading fluency also tend to struggle with reading comprehension due to the time students take to decode unfamiliar words which have not yet been learnt to automaticity.

The slower reading rate impacts the limits of students' working memory, which can rapidly overwhelm cognitive load.

Reading for meaning in this instance becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible.


Reading accuracy is perhaps the most significant area of difficulty for learners with dyslexia. Reading accuracy errors affect and compound all other areas of reading difficulty.

As previously stated, students with dyslexia primarily have difficulties with phonemic awareness and the ability to blend and segment words into individual sounds.

Word reading accuracy directly affects reading fluency and reading rate, which in turn impacts reading comprehension.

With all these critical reading skills being affected by inaccurate decoding, is it any wonder that working memory limits are breached and the whole thing starts to falls apart for many of our students?

That is why we at speechlanguage-resources consistently highlight the critical importance of fundamental skills of blending, segmenting and phoneme manipulation and that these skills need to be taught to mastery. (McGuiness, 2004)

If mastery is not achieved in word reading accuracy, it's a fair bet that all other areas of reading skill will be directly affected, most directly reading fluency.

Reading fluency difficulties are characterized by slower reading pace, frequent pauses, mispronunciations and inaccuracies, which subsequently affects students' understanding of a text's content.

Students blessed with both determination and an awareness of their reading comprehension challenges, may attempt to re-read a difficult passage several times in an effort to comprehend it fully. This may slow the learning process, but such students will eventually progress with their learning and understanding of complex text.

In contrast, students who have poor awareness of their comprehension difficulties will just forge ahead with a complex passage that may be beyond their reading ability and read a text with varied levels of accuracy and fluency. However, such students may not be able to fully comprehend a text's true sense, nor be able to respond accurately to questions about a passage's meaning.

Dyslexia and its Link to Oral Language - How to Help Students with Reading Difficulty

Synthetic phonics stands unchallenged as the key intervention to help children with reading difficulties access text..

This systematic approach to teaching literacy skills involves directly teaching students to link speech sounds (phonemes) to letters and then blend them to form recognizable words.

When taught with fidelity and care, synthetic phonics is a highly effective teaching method for all students, not just those with dyslexia, to learn how to read unfamiliar words with accuracy and eventual automaticity.

Synthetic phonics, specifically sound to print phonics teaches dyslexic students to separate, recognize, and manipulate sounds in spoken words and link them to letters (graphemes).

The deep-seated persistence of dyslexia underscores the urgency for remedial strategies employed immediately after accurate diagnosis.


In some learners, dyslexia may stem from a genetic basis.

This aspect denotes that a predisposition towards dyslexia could be inherited, which further emphasizes the importance of early and accurate diagnosis to implement appropriate interventions and support.

Accurate assessment of dyslexia does not always involve a straightforward diagnosis, due in part to its multifaceted nature. That is partly why there is some confusion and disagreement over what constitutes dyslexia and how to accurately diagnose it.

At times. it seems that it almost becomes a process of elimination., as students with concomitant difficulties in cognition and/or oral language can make accurate diagnosis as specifically having dyslexia much more difficult to identify.

Of course, accurate diagnosis is less about pinning a label but understanding a student's unique educational needs.

Dyslexia and its Link to Oral Language - Wholistic View

Responsible diagnosis of any learning disability requires a wholistic interpretation of a student's cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional profiles alongside their reading performance on specific standardized tests.

It's also important to have a true measure of a student's overall ability to function in the classroom and their written language skills. 

Comprehending and addressing dyslexia at a functional level in a school environment can be an tough task for both teachers and allied health professionals.

Accepting dyslexia as an accurate and legitimate diagnosis that has its roots in oral language can lead to a better understanding of how to improve students' reading skills.

Viewing the dyslexic student's struggle with reading not as failure but more as a guide. A guide that signposts the need for explicit instruction to help tackle head-on the implications of phonemic awareness difficulties and its link to reading difficulties.


Continued research in the field of dyslexia and a more nuanced understanding of dyslexia's connection with oral language is certainly important.

What is perhaps equally important in this context is for educators to provide consistent, effective explicit instruction performed with fidelity to help our students overcome reading challenges. This above  other measures will help children with word reading accuracy difficulties decode unfamiliar words and subsequently lead to improvements in reading fluency.

The more we delve into an understanding of what accurate dyslexia diagnosis is, the more adept we become at fine-tuning teaching methods and intervention, which feeds into the goal of creating a more inclusive education environment for all our students.


Dehaene, S  (2010) Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read. Penguin Books

McGuiness, D (2004) Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us About Howe to Teach Reading  MIT Press Academic

Seidenberg, M. (2018) Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can't, and What Can be Done About It. Basic Books Hachette Book Group

Updated 01/2024