Children with decontextualised oral language skills are able to convey novel information to listeners beyond the current context (Beals & De Temple, 1992; Snow, 1991). These abilities become crucial in determining a child's success in school tasks as they could be useful indicators for the charting of oral language development in subsequent years of formal schooling.
This study examines the ability of three six-year-old preschoolers in their use of decontextualised oral language using two oral tasks - a picture description task and a story narration task. The three subjects are from the middle socio-economic strata in Singapore. This research also examines whether the use of decontextualised oral language by parents in shared storybook reading influences the children's ability in using such language.
The finding reveals that while the speech of all three subjects contains features of decontextualised oral language, its development varies individually. From the analysis of the data, the subjects' attempts to establish cohesion and coherence were evident through the use of connectors, pronouns and determiners. All of them showed abilities to construct SV(O) sentences, though the sentences formed were relatively simple as they were mostly linked with the coordinator and. The interference of Singlish is also evident in the speech of the three subjects. The subject who demonstrated the best abilities in using decontextualised oral language among the three was still not considered a competent user when compared to children of the same age in the monolingual English-speaking countries.
The study also shows that decontextualised oral language rarely occurred in the mothers' speech during shared book reading. The finding reveals that children's ability to use decontextualised oral language may not have been directly influenced by the frequency of use of decontextualised oral language by adults in shared book reading. The home language environment which includes involving siblings and grandparents as partners in communication, exposing children to a wide range of activities and literacy experiences, good parenting practices and additional literacy support seem to play a more important role in influencing the children's ability to use decontextualised oral language.