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Speech and Language Development in Five-Year-Old Children

Updated on March 12, 2011

If you haven't yet noticed, most five year olds love to talk! An hour-long car trip can be delightful or seem like an eternity if you happen to have a chatty five year old with you.

There are noticeable changes in the language of five-year-old children, particularly in the relevance and conciseness of their verbalizations. Their answers to questions are more suc­cinct and direct. The questions your five year old asks are more relevant and are aimed at gaining information. Language skills are characterized by the use of basic grammatical structures, such as plurals, conjunctions, and verb tenses (past, present, and future). Your five year old is now able to take appropriate turns in conversations with both peers and adults. With a vocabulary of 2,500 or more words, your five year old now demonstrates an inner logic in language as well as an ability to categorize.

Receptive Language

Receptive language, the ability to understand what is said, is now well developed. Your five year old can follow directions consisting of three steps. "Please put your shoes in your room, hang up your coat, and wash your hands" are directions many five year olds are able to follow. Verbal directions are incorpo­rated into play skills, and there is an understanding of some

abstract concepts. Your child has an understanding of spatial relations, such as on, behind, under, and in back. Most five year olds can understand the concepts of same and different and can show you a penny, nickel, and dime.

Expressive Language

Expressive language skills, the ability to use spoken words to express thoughts, are characterized by the use of sentences containing six or more words. Five-year-old children are able to describe things by using conjunctions to string together words and phrases. They are able to respond appro­priately to social greetings, such as "Hi, how are you?" and use language to regulate social interactions with others.

They are able to define objects by their use and can tell what things are made of. By this age, most children should know their address and are able to carry a plot in a story. For example, when telling a story about Halloween and ghosts, they are able to maintain the same story line from start to finish without wandering off the topic.

Stimulating Language Development

Language skills can be stimulated by encouraging your child to use language to express feelings, ideas, wishes, and fears. Instead of asking a direct question, commenting on what your child did or how you think your child feels will stimulate more speech. "What did you do in school today?" will generate more conversation than "Did you have a good day at school?", which can be answered with a simple yes or no. Asking a child to explain how he or she did something will generate speech more than a simple comment, such as "I really like that picture you drew."

Allow opportunities for your child to learn songs, rhymes, or verses from memory, and continue to read longer stories. As your child's attention span and memory skills increase, longer and more complex books and stories will help foster language development. Listen to your child when she talks to you, and avoid using baby language when you speak to her. Remember that children understand more than they are able to say. This is important to keep in mind when you are having conversa­tions that your child should not overhear!


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