Verbally Gifted Children and Their Language Skills

Verbally gifted boy reading with his father

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The term verbally gifted is used to refer to children who have strong language skills. Verbally gifted kids become competent in a language before other kids their age. They also perform better on verbal and general information tests as well as tests of English expression than mathematically gifted children do.

Verbal skills include the ability to understand language easily. That includes grammar as well as creative uses of language as in poetry. Learning languages tends to come easily to the verbally gifted and they generally have a good ear for the sounds of a language. The verbally gifted also have the ability to understand and manipulate language symbols like alphabets.

Learning Language

All children with working auditory and oral systems learn a language, and unless they have a learning disability such as an auditory processing problem, they learn it with ease and without instruction. Children learn a language in stages, beginning in infancy.

Babies are born with the ability to make all 150 sounds that occur in the more than 6500 languages spoken around the world.

As children grow and develop, they go from learning the sounds of their native language to learning words, grammatical structure, and the meaning of sentences. This process generally takes three years. By the time a child is 3 years old, they are able to speak mostly grammatical sentences, although the sentences tend to be fairly simple sentences.

A verbally gifted child is one who passes through the stages of language learning more quickly than non-gifted children. For example, a verbally gifted child may speak their first word at 9 months old or even 6 months old, while non-gifted children typically don't speak their first word until they are 1 year old.

Some verbally gifted children seem to skip some language learning stages, but it may be that we just can't observe their understanding of language because they remain relatively silent. For example, a gifted child may not mimic words as most children do at age 1. They also may not begin speaking simple sentences like "Me cookie" at age 2. Then suddenly at 2 1/2, they will ask a question like "Where's my cookie?"

Signs of Verbally Gifted Kids

Generally, kids who are verbally gifted have noticeable talents in five areas: reading, speaking, creative writing, foreign language, and general verbal reasoning. Here are some signs that your child may be verbally gifted.

  • Learns to talk earlier than peers
  • Masters letter sounds and begins reading before their peers
  • Demonstrates a mastery of grammar and spelling
  • Uses an advanced vocabulary for their age
  • Writes descriptively and communicates stories with ease
  • Demonstrates an above-age ability to understand double meanings
  • Shows an ability to learn other languages with ease
  • Enjoys verbal puzzles and games
  • Likes to read outside of class and for enjoyment
  • Reads fluently and above grade level when compared to peers

Keep in mind not every verbally gifted child will display all of these characteristics, but they will exhibit many on the list.

Learning to Read

As they do with learning language, verbally gifted children tend to learn to read quickly unless they have a disability like dyslexia. Children learn to read in stages just as they learned a language.

However, reading is a skill that must be learned through some kind of instruction. That instruction can't begin until children already have a grasp of the basics of a language. After all, the written word is simply a visual representation of spoken language, and if a child doesn't fully understand the spoken language, it will be difficult to make the connection between the spoken word and the written symbols on a page.

Children can, of course, begin making a connection between written and spoken words, but at very young ages, they will tend to see written words as images that represent an object. So a young child can learn that "mom" represents that woman at home who loves and takes care of them, but they don't make connections between the individual sounds of the letters that make up the word, nor would they be able to transfer the sound of "m" in "mom" to another word with "m" such as "me." 

In order to be able to read, a child must understand the connection between the sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet, be able to blend those sounds together in words, and understand the meaning of those blended sounds. Reading is a very complex skill.

Verbally gifted children tend to learn to read quickly and often quite early. They may be fluent readers by the time they are 5 years old, having begun to read at age 3. Most importantly, they often learn to read almost like they learned a language—without instruction. These early readers are known as self-taught readers.

Other Gifted Children and Verbal Skills

Not all gifted children are verbally gifted. Some gifted children are mathematically gifted. Mathematically gifted children will probably not show these early verbal skills. However, once they begin to learn to read, they may learn quickly.

They will more likely demonstrate early mathematics skills, such as an understanding of numbers at an early age and the ability to add, subtract, and even multiply long before other kids their age, often before they start kindergarten. For this reason, if a child doesn't speak or read early, it doesn't mean that the child isn't gifted. It may simply mean that they are gifted in other domains, like math.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to understand that while reading is one of the most important skills to have in order to achieve academic success, verbal giftedness is not a sign that a child will excel in school. In fact, verbally gifted children are at risk for underachievement in school.

Continue to nurture your child's interest in and love for reading, writing, and languages, but allow them some freedom in determining how they want to channel their skills. The key is to provide support and direction while allowing your child to discover their passions. Doing so will help them use their skills to be successful.

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