Communication Development: By 5 Years

Communication Development: By 5 Years

Look for opportunities to increase the number of different words your child uses. Make your own books with your child. Play games that help with taking turns and concentrating. 

Here is some information about how children's communication skills usually develop by the age of 5. We have included some suggestions of activities to encourage communication at each age (tips). Use the language that you are most familiar and comfortable with. 

By 5 years, most children...

  • understand and use more concept words, such as 'tallest', 'same', 'bigger', 'medium'
  • can respond to instructions while busy doing something else
  • generally use complete, well formed sentences 
  • are still developing some aspects of more complex language structure, such as using irregular past tense; for example, they may say "runned" for 'ran'
  • are able to take turns in much longer conversations 
  • will ask the meanings of words, and try to use new words
  • are able to retell stories they have heard in the right order, using some story phrases; for example, "once upon a time", "the end"
  • are able to ask for help appropriately; for example, "excuse me can I have....?"
  • are able to adapt their talking to a listener's level of understanding; for example, when talking to a baby sister
  • are able to identify first sounds in words; for example, "puku starts with p"
  • are starting to link letter names with letter sounds; for example, 's' = 'ssss'
  • can recognise some familiar written words
  • can write their own name
  • can be understood by unfamiliar adults all of the time. A few sounds may still be developing; for example, thrl and some consonant blends, such as string, cloud, spider, tree


  • look for opportunities to increase the number of different words your child uses, particularly around new experiences. Try to use a wide range of naming and describing words
  • make your own books with your child – write the story together
  • play games that help with taking turns and concentrating; for example, 'What's the time, Mr Wolf?', hide and seek, snakes and ladders, memory match
  • give your child plenty of opportunities to play with other children. This is a great way to develop talking and social skills

Graphic of a father kneeling at a table with 2 children - they are making something in a mixing bowl

The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and adapted from Much more than words | Manuka takoto, kawea ake (2014) (PDF, 565KB)

This page last reviewed 19 February 2018.
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