What are the similarities between an iceberg and language and literacy? Usually only about 10% of an iceberg is above the surface; the shape of the underwater portion is difficult to judge and can cause problems for the unwary. Identifying and providing the most effective support to foster early language and literacy skills can be equally hidden.

But language is complex. It is a tool for thinking and learning. Key skills developed during the early years are critical for success at school. Yet for many young children, gaps in vocabulary acquisition and development are well established before they enter school. Research confirms that these gaps are likely to grow more discrepant over time (Dickinson & Porche, 2011; Sinatra, Zygouris-Coe & Dasinger, 2011). Nevertheless, in the early years, there is increasing pressure to focus attention on the tip of the iceberg – teaching and monitoring basic code-breaking aspects such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge and phonics. Although these skills are important, they may sometimes dominate teaching, and potentially reduce attention given to aspects of learning that have a more pervasive and long-lasting effect. It is essential to devote attention to the less readily observable and assessable, ‘hidden elements’ including receptive and expressive language, vocabulary development and inferential language skills.


language development, vocabulary development, language skills, early years, thinking, learning

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