Language: Word Decoding and Understanding of Syntax and Semantics

Reading comprehension requires facility with many aspects of language. Phonemic and phonological awareness (knowledge of the sounds of letters and letter combinations) underlie the accurate and rapid retrieval of word meanings (word decoding). Decoding is a crucial component of reading comprehension. Students who are effective decoders of words are more likely to be able to attend to and remember an author’s intended meaning.

In addition, students must have abilities in other components of language to gain meaning from their reading. They must have developed an understanding of syntax (how to combine words and word endings into phrases and sentences), as well as skill in semantics (a solid vocabulary and knowledge of word meanings). Comprehension of text thus depends heavily on a reader’s language abilities.

This chart describes some important language abilities related to reading comprehension.

Necessary SubSkillsCommon ObstaclesHelpful Tips
Student is able to decode new words with ease and efficiency, so that his/her reading is smooth and fluent. Student is not "automatic" with decoding skills, making his/her reading choppy or effortful. view
Student understands the role of syntax, and how the rules of grammar and word order shape the meaning of a sentence or passage. Student is often confused by syntax changes, or by syntactically complex sentences. view
Student has a strong vocabulary and semantic understanding, e.g., understands the different meanings of individual words. Student does not understand the meaning of words, and may be especially confused by words that have different or multiple meanings. view