​​(21)iStock-1238999190_Language development_5-8 years

Language development in children at 5-8 years: early literacy and language sounds

By 5 years, children know that words are made of different sounds and syllables. When they are listening, they can identify words beginning with the same sound – for example, ‘Mummy made magic marshmallows’. They can also notice words that sound the same and play rhyming games with words like ‘bat’, ‘cat’, ‘fat’, ‘hat’ and ‘mat’.

At 5-6 years, your child might know some or all of the sounds that go with the different letters of the alphabet. This is an important first step in learning to read. At this age, children also learn that single sounds combine together into words. For example, when you put the ‘t’, ‘o’ and ‘p’ sounds together, they make the word ‘top’.

By 6 years, children start to read simple stories with easy words that sound the way they are spelled, like ‘leg’, ‘cat’ or ‘flop’. They are also starting to write or copy letters of the alphabet, especially the letters for the sounds and words they are learning.

By 8 years, your child understands what they are reading. Your child might read on their own, and reading might even be one of their favourite activities. By this age children can also write a simple story.

By the time children are 5 years old, unfamiliar people can understand all of what they say, even though they might still mispronounce a few words. For example, they might still have problems saying sounds like the ’r’, ‘l’ or ‘th’ sound. They might say ‘wing’ instead of ‘ring’ or ‘fink’ instead of ‘think’.

Vocabulary and language development

By 5 years, children can mostly use the correct forms of verbs to talk about past and future events. For example, your child can say ‘I played with Maxie’ to talk about the past and ‘I will play with Maxie’ to talk about the future. Children also begin to understand and use words that explain when things happen – for example, ‘night’, ‘day’ and ‘yesterday’.

Your child will start to realise that there are exceptions to grammatical rules. For example, we say ‘broke’, ‘threw’ and ‘ate’ rather than ‘breaked’, ‘throwed’ and ‘eated’. It will take a few more years to learn the many exceptions in the English language. Even at 8 years of age, some children might have trouble with the past tense of some verbs.

At 5-6 years, children start to understand that single words might have different meanings, so they start to use the context of a word to know what it means. For example, ‘cool’ means something different when you say, ‘It’s a cool day’, compared with when you say, ‘That’s a really cool robot you’ve built’. They also begin to understand figures of speech – for example, ‘Make up your mind’ and ‘I give you my word’.

Your child will understand that they can make new words by joining 2 other words – for example, ‘bookshelf’. You will hear compound words like this more often in your child’s speech.

Your child will also begin using longer words as they learn that the beginnings and endings of words change their meanings. For example, your child can add ‘ness’ (as in ‘happiness’), ‘un’ (as in ‘unwrap’), and ‘er’ (as when ‘teach’ becomes ‘teacher’).

And your child will also start to understand that some words don’t need an ‘s’ to become plurals – for example, ‘feet’ rather than ‘foots’.

By 8 years, children start to understand jokes and riddles and use language in an abstract way. For example, your child might tell a joke like ‘What kind of shows do cows like to watch? Moo-sicals’.

Your child might also start to compare 2 things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ – for example, ‘They swim like a fish’.

Language skills develop with practice. Children practise by talking with others, reading and having lessons in the classroom. And language and reading skills develop together all the way through school.

Understanding and using sentences as part of language development

By 5 years, children can follow multi-step directions.

Your child can understand and combine words to form active sentences – for example, ‘The cat chased the dog’. They also start to understand passive sentences – for example, ‘The cat was chased by the dog’.

But when children are describing pictures, they might mix up who is doing what to whom. Your child’s ability to make correct sentences will improve gradually in the next few years.

By 8 years, your child can use compound sentences with words like ‘and’ or ‘but’ to join sentences together – for example ‘It’s Dan’s birthday today and they want to play video games’. Your child can also use these words to explain when one event depends on another – for example, ‘Dan wants to play video games but not until after Priya arrives’.

Storytelling and language development

From 4-8 years, children get much better at telling stories. Your child’s stories are probably longer and more detailed, and they probably make more sense too.

Your child’s stories might be made up, or they might be about things that have actually happened. They might have a theme, character or plot and contain actions and events in a logical order. For example, ‘The boat sank, so everybody had to swim to the beach’.

As your child keeps learning and practising language, their storytelling will improve. It will be easier to work out who your child is talking about when they are telling a story and how the events in their stories fit together.

In these years, your child might:

  • use different linking words in the right way – for example, ‘because’, ‘then’, ‘now’, ‘when’, ‘before’, ‘while’ and ‘although’

  • use different sentence types to present the same information

  • correctly use pronouns like ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’ when they are telling a story

  • understand the difference between fact and opinion – that is, the difference between ‘What happened?’ and ‘Why do you think … ?’

Growing up in a bilingual or multilingual family can be good for children’s learning. That is because children are learning words in more than one language. By the time your child is halfway through primary school, they are likely to speak and use English just as well as their peers.

When to seek professional help for language development

If you notice any of the following signs in your child or you are worried about your child’s language development, or if your child has stopped using a language skill they once had, it is a very good idea to see your General Practitioner or paediatrician. They might refer you to a speech therapist.

At 6 years, your child:

  • is difficult to understand or is not speaking in full sentences

  • has trouble following multi-step instructions like ‘Please put your pyjamas on your bed after you have put your clothes on’.

At 8 years, your child:

  • has a stutter or lisp when talking

  • has difficulty following instructions.

Children learn new skills over time and at different ages. Most children develop skills in the same order, and each new skill they learn builds on the last. Small differences in when children develop skills are usually nothing to worry about. But if you are wondering whether your child’s development is on track or you feel that something is not quite right, it’s good to get help early.

© raisingchildren.net.au, translated and adapted with permission