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Literacy is the competency with which a person uses written language to communicate - specifically, to read and write. Along with numeracy,[1] it is one of the important foundations in education and one of the goals of schooling. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other international organizations consider basic literacy provisions to be a basic human right (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees elementary and fundamental education).

While, in most Western societies, literacy is gained through pre-schooling and primary schooling, as well as from parents and others, many fall through the gap. In the United States, in 2003, the National Center for Education Statistics conducted the National Assessment of Adult Literacy which concluded that 30 million - around 14% - of the U.S. population bad "below basic" literacy skills, meaning that they are unable to read anything beyond the level of a children's picture book.[2]

Literacy and language acquisition

The effect of literacy on other skills, such as language acquisition, has become a focal point of research in linguistics and psychology, particularly since the 1990s. Literacy usually helps learning, such as by providing greater access to new vocabulary through written information.[3] Literacy is gradually being identified as a key factor in language processing skills, i.e. literacy positively and negatively affects how well people interpret grammatical patterns, acquire the accent of another language, or perform in tasks involving the manipulation of linguistic utterances.[4]


  1. And, more controversially, the use of information technology: the United Kingdom's "Skills for Life" policy considers ICT skills to be equivalent in importance to literacy and numeracy skills since they are all required to live and work in a technology-saturated culture.
  2. Overall Key Findings from the NAAL, USA Today Literacy Study: 1 in 7 U.S. adults are unable to read this story.
  3. Krashen (2003: 15).
  4. Tarone, Bigelow & Hansen (2009).