Types of Literacy

Reading and Writing

Traditional definitions of literacy usually refer to the ability to read and write. These are skills that can be developed over time, and they should be practiced regularly.

More than just knowing how to read and write basic letters and sentences (although this is a great start), this literacy means that you can understand and communicate what you have read and that you can express yourself through writing.

(Source: What is Literacy?)

Numerical Literacy

In a nutshell, numerical literacy is the ability to use basic math skills in everyday life and the ability to use numbers to solve problems or manage finances. Going hand-in-hand with financial literacy, numerical literacy means:

  • Understanding charts, diagrams, and data
  • Solve problems
  • Check answers
  • Explain solutions
  • Use logic

(Source: What is Numeracy?)

Digital Literacy

Digital literacy means being able to critically use technology, to navigate through various online forums and devices, understanding how technology works, and being able to creatively and inventively manipulate technology to solve problems. It goes hand in hand with media literacy.

Basically, being digitally literate means being able to use technology to solve problems and to express yourself. Contrary to popular belief, young people are not necessarily digitally literate just because they are competent in using technology - it depends on what they use it for.

(Source: What is digital literacy and why is it important for Canadian youth?)

(Read more: Digital Literacy Fundamentals)

Health Literacy

This is the type of literacy that allows you to understand the health care system, such as:

  • Medications
  • Communicating with doctors and specialists
  • Getting the necessary help

Having poor health literacy skills is dangerous and can result in taking incorrect medications, trouble following instructions from your doctor about lifestyle, food, and referrals, missing appointments, and so on. More information can be found at our Health Literacy Infographic.

Financial Literacy

Going hand in hand with having good numeracy is the ability to understand and manage your finances. Financial literacy is "having the knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions" (Government of Canada), including:

  • Understanding how finances work and applying them to your life
  • Planning for your financial future and managing your personal funds
  • Being confident to make important decisions
  • Navigating financial systems and institutions
  • Making the best use of the resources you have

(Source: Financial Literacy Background)

Media Literacy

Media Literacy refers to your ability to understand the  messages you are being told on television, radio, video games, movies, news programs, social media, and more. Essentially, media literacy means understanding:

  • Media is constructed with a specific purpose in mind - it's designed to make you think something
  • People will see the same thing and understand it differently
  • Constructing media is a business
  • It reflects political and cultural ideas
  • The type of story changes depending on the type of media

For another description of media literacy, visit our infographic.

Cultural Literacy

Cultural Literacy is the ability to understand all of the subtle nuances that come along with living or working in a particular society. It consists of understanding the language, methods, assumptions, and unstated ideas that make up a way to behave and communicate. It's specific to each culture, even the particular cultures that develop in a workplace or school, and most people are only literate in their own culture.

The benefit to having a good understanding of cultural literacy is knowing how to avoid misunderstandings and communicate well with people of other cultures. Knowing your own cultural literacy makes you more empathetic and aware of others.

(Source: What is Cultural Literacy?)

Emotional/Physical Literacy

Physical literacy - The development and repeated use of fine motor skills, balance, confident movement, and the enjoyment of being able to move with skill. Developing this literacy at an early age allows children to learn and think more easily. However, improving physical literacy is important at every age.

Emotional literacy - Identifying, validating, and expressing your feelings, as well as recognizing and responding to the feelings of others.

How do these relate to one another? Having competent physical literacy is a fundamental tool for the development and expression of emotional literacy. In other words, the more comfortable you are in your own body, the more in tune you will be with your own feelings, and the more in tune you will be with the world.

Sources: Physical Literacy is Foundational to Health and Development and What is Emotional Literacy?