Background of the Study

Language is essential for survival and development as human beings. It is one of the greatest of human achievement.  Henry (2003) maintained that language is a range of activities which includes learning and accepting words, knowing the rules for using words accurately, learning the rules for putting words together meaningfully and obtaining a growing grasp of the appropriateness of what is being communicated. It is an important aspect of human development which follows a specific pattern or skills. Skills according to Worley & Story (1999) is the ability to do something well, usually gained through training or experience. It has to do with reaching a required standard of performance in doing something.Acquisition of language skills is vital both to the academic and individual development. Language is the chief means by which human personality engages in social interactions with one another. Ward (2002) defined language as a system of communication with its own set of conventions or special words. This entails that language enables the learners to perform specific communicative functions both in the academic and professional context.

Language appears in several form; listening, speaking, reading and writing. These are referred to as language skills. Maduewesi (1997) defined language skills as the indispensable tools for learning and acquisition of various skills and experiences needed by the child to develop a satisfactory personal life. It is a vital skill needed for development, thinking and human relationship. Language skills are means through which children build knowledge, gain competence and intimacy in their relationships. It is based on the above statement that Johnson (2005) maintained that as children gain competence and intimacy with language in one form, they also build knowledge and experience with the underlying core language, which then is carried into acquiring language in another form. In the same view, Owen (2001) pointed out that although speaking and reading are distinct, they are also related. The researcher further stated that early speaking skill acquisitions have been linked to later successful reading. That is to say that a child has to be competent in one form of language skill before moving to the next form, also there is linkage between each form of language skills.

Listening is the first and essential language skill to be acquired by a child. Listening differs from hearing, which is a psychological process that does not involve interpretation. Malik (2010) defined listening as a language skill that requires the listener to understand, interpret and evaluate what they hear. It entails concentrating on hearing somebody or something. The researcher averred that listening skill is important in the process of developing children socially and cognitively. Mili and Ali (2008) noted that listening means understanding what we hear at the same time. This means that two concurrent actions are demanded to take place in this process. Adewole and Oduolowa (2009) pointed out that listening call for evaluation, acceptance or rejection, internalization and at times appreciation of the ideas expressed. Listening skill is a forerunner of reading and speaking skills. This informed the reason while Brown (2000) upheld that proficiency in listening is a good predictor of reading and speaking. This means that listening may lead to improvement in reading and speaking skills.

Speaking skill is another important aspect of language skills. Speaking is the ability to give meaning to words, signs and symbols with a particular language. Agbeha (2003) defined speaking as a meaningful interpretation and response using a particular language. Thus, speaking skill is an integrated skill comprising listening, pronunciation and communication skills and appropriate store of necessary vocabulary (Nweneli, 2005). Speaking skill is a prerequisite for reading skill. This is in line with Ball and Pence (2006) that speaking skill is a better predictor than intelligence and efficiency with which children acquire reading skill. This means that, there is a linkage between speaking skills and successful reading. According to Simone (2008), the ways in which children acquire speaking skills can have a strong influence on their success in school. A close perusal at the above assertion reveals that listening skills precede speaking skills. In relation to the above assertion, Maduewesi (1999) asserted that development of speaking is made possible by listening to language in the social and concrete context and other means of expressing feelings such as writing.

Writing skill is a vital means of communication. It is one of the four language skills. Writing is the act of putting down on paper one’s ideas, feelings and emotions using graphic symbols. Encarta (2010) defined writing as words or other symbols such as hieroglyphics written down as a means of communication.  Writing skill is an integrated skill that involves communicating a message by making meaningful signs using a particular language on a page or on a particular object or place (Tompkins, 2002). To write, the writer needs a message and someone to communicate to. This means that writing and reading skills are productive skills that are closely related.

Reading skill is another important aspect of language skills. Reading is the interpretation languages that have been written down. It occupies a vital position in the educational process. According to Mgbodile (1999), reading is defined as the ability to decode or interpret the written or printed words and to gain meaning out of them. Reading skill according to Baker (2001) is a unified skill that encompasses the process of identifying and understanding the meaning of the characters and words in written or printed material. Reading skill starts with the use of the eye and memory to recognize shapes, patterns and letter of the alphabet, and ends with using past experiences and background knowledge to confirm what is read. This confirmation is an indication that the reader comprehends what he/she is reading.

Reading skill provides the child the power to assimilate and digest documented records. In reaction to this, Agada (1998) pointed out that reading that does not involve comprehension is more of barking at print. This entails that to read and comprehend a text, the reader must be able to interpret the symbols on the page, convert the strategies for reading, access knowledge of the language and incorporate prior knowledge of the subject. In line with this, Austrad (2003) maintained that the understanding of a text lies in the interpretation between the reader and the text.

In line with the above deposit, the reader has to “read between the lines” in order to understand a text. Alo (2001) stressing on the importance of reading skill maintained that reading skill is an indispensable tool for human learning and adaptation in the modern economy. It prepares the child for citizenship roles by providing him the power to assimilate and digest documented records that help to sustain the rhythm and the ethos of life in the society. Reading skill allows citizens of the state to have access to documentation and recorded debate. It means that a child should acquire reading skill in order to function well as a citizen. Reading skill is one of the most essential language skills and foundation for language acquisition.

Family and school are the two main social environments in which a child grow and acquire language skills. Family according to Eggen and Kauchak (2002) is a group of people who are closely related by birth, marriage, or adoption. It is a group of people living together and functioning as a single household, usually consisting of parents and their children. When a child is born into a family, he or she becomes part of the family and interacts with other members of the family. In every corner of the world, young children learn languages at their different families that differ from the dominant language used in their broader social world (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2011). In childhood, the family provides the most significant attachment as well as the care and stimulation required for children growth and development. This entails that the family in which a child grows up has a powerful impact on how the child develops and what the child learns.

There may be no doubt that many children speak a family language that differs from the language of instruction in education programmes. This could be as a result of family factors. Family factors according to Marmot (2004) are the summation of all the factors that can help or hinder a child in gaining an education. It is the sum of all external factors to which a child is exposed. Such factors are socio-economic statues of parents, bilingualism, the number of siblings at home and parenting styles.