Language, academic performance

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe
File photo
File photo

Ever wondered why your child may be having difficulties in school, why they may be struggling with maths, comprehension, composition etc.

Could there be an underlying language difficulty that has not yet been identified? Yes, the children are following instructions at home and seem to express themselves quite well but, is that all there is to performing well in school?

Do they understand concepts in mathematics such as addition, subtraction, multiplication or division?

Do they understand what they read? Has the school identified the child’s difficulties?

What support is in place to support children with such difficulties in our schools?

Language plays a key role in education. It involves the understanding and use of words, sentences etc. to express ourselves.

Language is used to educate children in school. Good language skills are necessary for academic success as it is the cornerstone to children learning all subjects.

Skills such as sharing ideas, retaining information, remembering and retelling information, participating in class activities, interacting with peers and others in the school setting are all dependent on language. In addition, reading and writing are both based on language.

A child with difficulties in any aspect of language (understanding or expressing themselves) will find it difficult to learn without any support.

Signs of difficulties in classroom

The signs of difficulties associated with language include:

• May not remember information

• May not be able to carry out instructions or complete work without help

• Finds it difficult to understand different question words e.g. When? How? Why?

• Difficulty understanding new concepts such as location (e.g., behind, in between, behind)

• May copy work of others

• Uses short or incomplete sentences

• Has difficulty explaining their ideas, thoughts and feelings clearly

• Uses non-specifi c vocabulary / has limited vocabulary

• Give limited answers to questions • Not stay on topic of conversation/ discussion

• Has literal interpretation of figurative language (e.g., idioms, sarcasm, humour) such as ‘Raining cats and dogs’, ‘All fingers are not the same’, ‘Cut your coat according to your size’.

• Has difficulty inferring information and/or problem solving and may appear stuck

• Difficulty with attention • Not reading or writing or both at the level expected for their age


Speech and language therapists (SLTs) work with children with a wide range of communication difficulties. They work directly with children, their families as well as their teachers to provide the appropriate intervention for them.

The SLT will do a comprehensive assessment to identify the specific difficulties of the child. As part of the assessment, the SLT will get some information from the family (birth and medical history) and school to get information about the child’s language use and understanding in different contexts and to identify how their difficulties may be impacting their life in general.

SLTs have language specific tests they do with children based on their age. After analysing the tests, they then are able to diagnose the language difficulty the child has. Language intervention goals are set for the child after the diagnosis.

With the help of the families and the child’s school, progress can be made. It is important, therefore, that parents are committed/involved in their child’s intervention for progress to be made.

Unfortunately, many children cannot receive speech and language therapy in schools as there aren’t many of them in the country now. SLTs in Ghana can be found mostly in hospitals and private clinics.

The writer is Speech & LanguageTherapist/Clinical Tutor, University of Ghana. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.