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Language Comprehension

To read and understand text, a child needs to be able to understand language. Before expecting a child to be able to read and understand a story, the question should be asked, "Could the child understand this story if it was read TO her?" An essential aspect of language comprehension hinges on the ability to draw inferences and appreciate implications-it is important to understand both the explicit and implicit messages contained in language.

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Language comprehension can be assessed in basically the same way reading comprehension is assessed. With language comprehension assessment, however, the child should not be expected to read any text. Everything from the instructions to the comprehension questions should be presented orally to the child.

It is also worth noting that a child's language comprehension "level" is usually considerably higher than her reading comprehension "level." A child that is not able to read and understand a passage of leveled, grade-appropriate text usually has no difficulty understanding that same text if somebody else reads it to her. For most young children learning to read, their ability to read and understand text is limited by their decoding skills, not by their language comprehension skills. (That is not to say that most children have "good" language comprehension skills or that language comprehension skills are not a reading teacher's concern. The point here is that decoding skills are usually the greater problem for young readers.) However, sometimes teachers find that a child who can not read and understand a passage of text also does not understand it when the teacher reads it to the child. It is always worthwhile to compare a child's language comprehension with her reading comprehension to be sure that her ability to understand text is not being limited by her ability to understand language.

When assessing the language comprehension skills of children with limited English proficiency, every attempt should be made to assess the child's language comprehension skills in both English and her primary language. A child's proficiency with a language, any language, is a strength that teachers should make every effort to build upon.