Developing Language

Children’s language develops at different ages and at different stages in a child’s life. As a teacher I am often asked by parents if their child’s language is developing at the norm. Parents want to know that their child is at the correct level for their age and also want to know ways in which they can help advance their child’s language skills.

Something we want to be careful of is comparing children to others as all children develop at different stages and although one child may seem leaps and bounds ahead of yours in terms of language skills I assure you in a few months your child will be in the same place, and if you look at other areas of your child’s development I am sure they will be good at a whole range of things.

If you want to encourage your child’s language development there are many things you can do which I will discuss. What we want to steer away from is forcing children into learning or into rote learning (memorising and copying words), these activities do not encourage a love of learning which is important.

Firstly I would recommend observing your child in a few different scenarios where they are involved in conversation. This applies for all ages as even a baby will have a conversation.  It is good to have an idea of what is the norm for your child’s age group so you can see if there is a concern and also to get some ideas of what direction to move in.

Ages and Stages

  •  0-3 months – Young babies learn to recognise your voice, turn their heads to your sounds and understand tones.
  •  4 to 6 months – Babies still respond to sound rather than speech but they are more responsive to tone. They will become upset at angry sounds and understand the word ‘no’.  They become fascinated by sounds, such as rattles, music and clapping.
  • 7- 12 months – Children begin to understand speech. They understand their name and simple words and sentences such as “more”, “please”, “sit” “mummy”, “daddy’ “eye’s” etc.  They also find pleasure in word games such as peek-a-boo.
  • 1-2 years – A child may be able to point at items and name them and will also know some of their own body parts. They will understand basic instructions such as “come here” and “stand up”. They will be interested in language often finding books, pointing and saying “whats that?”  They enjoy songs and rhymes and will often remember the actions such as twinkle little star.
  • 2 – 3 years – This is a big year for language development where parents can often see a big difference between their child and another, and wonder why one two year old talks alot more than another. By the age of 2 and the age of 3 children your child’s language will develop at a rapid speed so do not be tempted to compare your child to another child of similar age. Around this age your child will begin to understand two stage instructions such as “go get bunny and put her in your bag” and understand contrasting  meanings such as hot /cold, stop/go and  in/out. Your child may move from using one word at a time to putting together basic sentences
  • 3-4 years – Your three or four year old understands simple “Who?”, “What?” and “Where?” questions, and can hear you when you call from another room. This is an age where hearing difficulties may become evident. If you are in doubt about your child’s hearing, see a clinical audiologist.
  • 3- 4 years – Your child will be able to have a conversation. They will be able to understand simple “Who?”, “What?” and “Where?” questions, and will answer questions when asked.  This is an age where hearing difficulties may become evident. If you are in doubt about your child’s hearing, see a clinical audiologist.
  • 4-5 years – Children of this age enjoy using their language skills and involve themselves in songs, stories and conversation. They can hear and understand most of what is said to them and will often ask if they do not understand a word or concept. All children develop language skills at very different stages but by this age your child’s hearing and language comprehension should not be in doubt. If you do have concerns see a speech and language therapist.

Observe your child in an activity and write down any language that took place. Then look at the language and compare it to the ages and stages.


Ben; I have orange on my hat.

Jack; I don’t have a hat

Ben; You have orange on your top

Jack; No that not orange

Ben; Look out Jack there sarks in the water.

Jack: Yeah, their trying to jump

Ben: Lift your feets up or they’ll bite you

Ben: Move Jack you have to get out of my way.

Jack: Don’t push me Ben

Ben: You have to get out of the way.

Jack: stop it Ben I don’t like it.


Ben: I pushed you cos you didn’t move Jack.

Ben: I pushed him cos he didn’t move.

Looking at this ob I can see Ben’s language is clear and he uses vowels and consonants that would be expected for his age. He is unable to say sharks which is also expected for this age as sh, L  and th sounds often come at the age of 5- 6.  He uses pronouns such as “you’ and “I”, uses imaginative play and talks out loud to himself which are all common behaviours for this age group. Ben justifies his behaviour of pushing his friend which is a behaviour above his age group.

The next step from the observation is use what we have learnt from the obs to extend on the  child’s language skills. The best way to do this is to work with what your child’s skills are and what they have shown an interest in. To develop language children need to understand language, how to explain something, communicate what they mean and how to put ideas into words. We can help children develop language by role modelling these ideas; explaining what we mean or what words mean. We can also listen to children and give them opportunities to explain their ideas, never answering for them and never using incorrect language or baby talk because we think they won’t understand.  When doing things with your child you can explain what you are doing such as washing your toddlers hands, you can say ” we need to get some soap” , now lets turn on the tap”, run our hands together etc… instead of just doing things for your child you can get down to their eye level and explain the world to them through language. They will soon learn these words themselves.

To encourage the development of Bens language skills I would recommend  reading shark stories with him as he has shown an interest in sharks and asking him to make up his own story book about sharks.  I would also ask him to stand in front of the class and explain his story to the class which would make him pick his words more carefully and have to think about what he will say before he speaks.

It is important we find things children are interested in and make language and learning fun. If we picked up on the things children are not good at such as words Ben found difficult such as “sharks” and tried to work with these then this would damage his self esteem. Where as finding things he enjoys will build his confidence, instil a love of learning and the correct pronunciation of words such as “sharks” will come to him shortly with out any help from me.


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