You are here
Language development 4 - 5 years
Language development 4 - 5 years
Key points to remember
- every child develops at a different rate
- there is a wide range of what is considered to be typical in a child's language development
- children learn by listening and watching - so talk to your child, sing songs and rhymes, look at books together
There is a wide range of what is considered to be typical in a child's language development. No two children say or understand exactly the same things at the same ages. However, there is a series of language stages that most children pass through between the ages of four and five years.
By four years of age
- children use sentences which are increasingly complex and which include a greater number of words
- there is a great increase in the number and type of words used
- they answer whose, who and why questions
- they use location words - in, on, under
- children refer increasingly to events and objects in the past and future
- they understand some concepts of time such as now, soon, later
- they ask who, what, where, and why questions
- they recognise common everyday sounds
- they carry out series of two related commands (for example, put your fork down and pick up your spoon)
- they can identify some objects by use (for example, which one do we write with?)
By five years of age
- children use complete sentences - minor grammatical errors are common (for example, runned, mouses)
- they have a basic understanding of concepts related to number, size, weight, colour, texture, distance, position and time and understand the concepts of tallest, biggest, same, more, on, in, under
- children understand the order of daily routines (for example, breakfast before lunch, lunch before dinner, dinner before bedtime)
- they adapt language to the listener's level of understanding (for example, to their baby sister: daddy go bye-bye; to their mother: daddy went to the shop to get a paper)
- they ask and answer who, what, when, why and where questions
- they follow two unrelated directions (for example, put your milk on the table and get your coat on)
- they refer increasingly to the activities of others
- they link past and present events
- they ask the meanings of words – they try to use new words, not always correctly
- their classification skills and reasoning ability are developing
Using language socially
A child's ability to use language socially is an important skill which, just like other parts of language, develops gradually over time.
See Using language socially -an important skill on this website.
Encouraging language development
See Encouraging language development on this website, including the sections:
Learning through play
You can help your child learn and develop by offering lots of opportunities to play and explore in an environment that is stimulating, safe and secure. Talk as you play to help your child understand and use language. Let your child hear the words that match what they are looking at and thinking about.
When should I seek help?
every child develops at a different rate
there is a wide range of what is considered to be typical in a child's language development
Look at how your child's language compares to typical development, using:
Speech sound development. Look at how your child's speech compares to typical development, using:
– the speech sound development chart in When do speech sounds develop?
– the descriptions of individual sound errors and patterns of sound changes in What are some of the sound errors a child may make?
– the guide to the approximate level of intelligibility (how much is understood) expected at different ages in When is a child's speech usually understood?
If you are concerned about your child's language development, you should discuss your concerns with the following:
- your child's teacher (if attending an early childhood centre or school)
- your GP (general practitioner), who should be able to advise you whether your child's language development is appropriate for their age, or whether there is a language development issue or another developmental concern
your Plunket nurse or other Well Child provider (see Where to go for more information below and the Well Child / Tamariki Ora services for under fives fact sheet on this website)
Well Child / Tamariki Ora services for under fives, including the section on Hearing and vision tests
by their third birthday, or
earlier if you are concerned,
or if you think your child does not understand language as well as other children of their age, you should request a referral for an assessment by a speech-language therapist.
A speech-language therapist will:
- firstly talk with you about your concerns, your child's developmental history, any health issues, any significant events including birth history
- assess your child's communication development, in particular the areas that you are concerned about
- if required, develop a programme with you which will include strategies that you can use daily with your child, as much as possible within daily routines
monitor and review progress and refer to other services (such as audiology), if required
Where to go for more information or help about language development
See the Ministry of Education website for the booklet:
- Much more than words: Monitoring and encouraging communication development in early childhood (large file)
Originally written for early childhood professionals, this booklet may be of interest to parents and caregivers who want more detailed information. The booklet was published by the Ministry of Education, Special Education in 2000
- Supporting your child's learning: Early learning - from your child's birth until they start school (large file)
If you are concerned about your child's language or speech development, you could discuss your concerns with your Plunket nurse (or other Well Child provider - see the Well Child / Tamariki Ora services for under fives fact sheet on this website). For your local Plunket office or Plunket Karitane Family Centre, check the Plunket website for:
Plunket also offers a specialist early childhood health telephone help service. It is available to all families, whanau and caregivers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call PlunketLine free on 0800 933 922.
ask your child's kindergarten or school teacher to refer your child
look in the phone book's yellow pages under speech-language therapy for speech language therapists in private practice
Starship Foundation and the Paediatric Society of New Zealand acknowledge the co-operation of the Ministry of Education. This fact sheet produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and adapted from:
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2013
Printed on 20 May 2013. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
DISCLAIMERThis fact sheet is for educational use only.
Please consult your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.
Fact sheets are subject to copyright. In the interests of information sharing they may be copied but acknowledgement must be given to PSNZ and Starship Foundation.
© The Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 - 2012