Importance of Verbal Intelligence

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Verbal intelligence is the ability to analyze information and solve problems using language-based reasoning. Language-based reasoning may involve reading or listening to words, conversing, writing, or even thinking. From classroom learning to social communication to texting and email, our modern world is built around listening to or reading words for meaning and expressing knowledge through spoken language.

What Are Verbal Tasks?

Verbal tasks are those we do by engaging with, manipulating, or using words. Verbal tasks may involve concrete or abstract ideas. They may also involve internalized language-based reasoning, otherwise known as self-talk. Verbal tasks involve skills such as:

  • Listening to and recalling spoken information
  • Solving language-based problems of a literary, logical, or social type
  • The ability to perform complex language-based analysis
  • Understanding the meaning of written or spoken information
  • Understanding the relationships between language concepts and performing language analogies or comparisons

Why It's Important

Early childhood education is often built around non-verbal reasoning, because very young children develop speech and language skills at different rates. Preschoolers may spend most of their school hours on activities such as finger painting, singing, movement, outdoor play, and crafts—all activities which can be completed with little verbal instruction or spoken response.

Once children are in school, however, verbal intelligence becomes increasingly important. Even kindergarteners and first graders are asked to listen to and follow spoken instructions ("put on your jackets and line up at the door").

The child who hears and understands only a portion of the instructions may not be able to keep up with the rest of the group. At the same time, children are asked to answer questions verbally ("which plant is tallest?"), and they are beginning to use (or at least dictate) written language.

Verbal reasoning becomes increasingly important in school work as children grow older and make more use of books, videos, and in-class conversation.

By the time a child reaches middle and high school, the vast majority of school work requires a high level of verbal intelligence. Reading and language arts tasks required verbal reasoning skills. Even the more abstract courses such as math and physics require verbal reasoning skills, as most concepts are either introduced orally by the teacher or introduced in written form in a textbook.

In college and in the workplace, verbal intelligence is central to instruction and training. It is a rare job that does not involve some form of language-based licensing or exam, and most jobs involve at least some verbal instruction.

How It's Measured

Verbal reasoning is typically assessed in a full intellectual assessment of IQ. Basic verbal reasoning may also be evaluated through brief intelligence tests and language assessment. Observation and one-on-one assessments may also be conducted.

When to Get Help

When verbal reasoning is slow to develop, remediation may include speech therapy, reading support, and specialized language arts programs. It is important to remember that verbal intelligence is not identical with IQ.

It is also important to note that an individual may have difficulty with spoken language as a result of many disorders that are unrelated to intelligence. Examples include hearing challenges, autism, and attention deficit disorder. When this is the case, it is often helpful to use printed or visual tools to support academic success and inclusion.

By Ann Logsdon
Ann Logsdon is a school psychologist specializing in helping parents and teachers support students with a range of educational and developmental disabilities.