Humans are social beings. They play, chat, sing, tell jokes, share stories, discuss issues, ask questions, follow directions, write emails, send text messages, follow Twitter, post on Facebook and do countless other activities every day that enable connections with others. Communication skills are core to these activities. Communication skills allow us to participate in our everyday lives and interact with the world around us.
In this chapter, we identify key stages in the development of communication skills in the early years, explore the milestones associated with each stage, and identify features that may indicate concerns at each stage. We discuss the links between oral and written communication skills and we suggest strategies for stimulating and supporting communication development across the early years.
What is Communication?
Communication is the sharing of ideas and information through verbal and non-verbal messages. Verbal messages are those that have a word (or language) base and include speaking, writing and signing. Non-verbal messages are not word-based and might include tactile or visual communication (e.g. a hug or a facial expression) (Crystal, 2006). Verbal communication (i.e. language) may be described as expressive (producing a message) or receptive (understanding a message).
Verbal communication is often considered in terms of three key areas: form, content and use (Bloom & Lahey, 1978). Form refers to the symbols used within the language (e.g. sounds, letters, words, gestures) and rules for combining those symbols (e.g. the sound combinations (phonology) or word combinations (syntax) allowed in a language). Content refers to the meaning communicated by specific symbols/ words/ sentences and/ or the combinations of these (often called semantics). Use refers to the way in which rules are applied and content is chosen to reflect the context in which the communication is occurring (also known as pragmatics). Form, content and use are interdependent, as illustrated in Figure 4.1.
Your ability to communicate in different contexts is a skill that has been developing since you were born. Initially, your communication with others would have been non-verbal (through eye gaze, pointing, smiling etc.), while they would have communicated in non-verbal and verbal (language-based) ways with you. As you were exposed to verbal communication, you began to imitate this and produce this yourselves.