Learning the meaning and use of words begins very early in every child’s life, as the natural ability of the speaker and the quality and kind of the language environment are critical in the preschool years from 6 months to 5 years. If, during this time, hearing is compromised, even by such things as multiple ear infections, allergies or genetic factors, the child arrives at kindergarten unprepared cognitively, and often socially and emotionally, for academic success. This is because language and the understanding of word meaning are the building blocks of intelligence. In school, word knowledge is the currency on which good grades are built.
A child who arrives in kindergarten without the language skills in English equivalent to their class mates has difficulty understanding teachers’ instructions and in learning to read, write and spell. These first level skills are the tools for learning everything else in the elementary school. If their mastery is incomplete and full of gaps, that also compromises success beyond grade 7.
Some children catch up, but because language meaning also underlies the fast-developing cognitive skills of early childhood, many do not. This problem is worse if continued compromised hearing or a learning disability is also present, or even if the dysfunctional immature behaviour causes avoidance strategies to challenge level tasks.
This simplified description of how language delay develops shows how complex the problem of diminished performance can be. Most important, because these skills also underlie learning to read and write efficiently, the root causes are masked as limited intellectual potential, and poor achievement is expected by teachers, parents and the students themselves.