Understanding Language – Early Years
Young children must learn to understand spoken language in order to develop spoken language proficiently. Often young children’s understanding of spoken language is better than their spoken language. A good understanding of spoken language is crucial for effective communication.
- Keep what you say simple
- Try to talk about things the child can see.
- Do not talk too much about things that are not actually there (e.g. events from the past or the future).
- Use natural gestures and facial expression when you are talking, and use pictures to support the child’s understanding (e.g. showing them a picture of the park when you are getting ready to go to the park).
- If the child does not understand, try to repeat the sentence using different and simple words
Babies use contextual clues to understand familiar gestures, words and sounds. They observe and respond to facial expressions. They are learning to stop and look when they hear their own name. They are learning to recognise the voices of familiar adults.
NB. Babies can show they recognise people or objects by getting excited and kicking or moving their arms rapidly.
Children of this age are developing their ability to follow other people’s gestures and pointing.
They are often able to respond to things being said when in a familiar context and with a special person, e.g., ‘where’s Mummy?’, ‘where’s your ear?’. An understanding of single words in context is developing, e.g., ‘cup’, ‘milk’, ‘daddy’.
18 months - 2 years
Children of this age select familiar objects by name and will go and find objects when asked or identify objects from a group. They are able to understand simple phrases (e.g. ‘coat on’, ‘bath time’) but also rely on gestures, pointing and everyday routines to support their understanding. They are beginning to follow instructions containing 2 key pieces of information, (e.g. give me the cup and the ball, where’s big teddy). A child at this stage is beginning understanding language at a two word level.
2 - 2 1/2 years
Children of this age will be more consistent at following instructions containing 2 key pieces of information, (e.g. give me the cup and the ball, where’s big teddy). They are said to be at the ‘two word level’. Children of this age are able to identify action words by pointing to the right picture, e.g., ‘who’s jumping?’
2 1/2 - 3 1/2 years
Children of this age are beginning to understand ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ in simple questions and are developing an understanding of simple concepts such as big/little.
Children of this age are also able to understand more complex sentences and follow instructions containing three key pieces of information (e.g. ‘put the big apple on the blue plate’, where there are big and little fruit and two different coloured plates). A child at this stage is said to be understanding language at a three word level.
3 1/2 - 4 years
Children of this age are beginning to understand instructions containing 4 key pieces of information (e.g. ‘drive the big green tractor to the farm’, where there are different sized and coloured vehicles, and a range of locations). Children will be starting to understand prepositions ‘under’, ‘on’, ‘top’, and will be able to answer simple ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘where’ questions. They will be starting to understand concepts such as ‘same’ and ‘different’. Children at this age rely less on clues from the context or environment to support their understanding.
Children of this age are starting to understand use of objects, e.g., ‘what do we use to cut things?’. They are beginning to understand ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. Their understanding of time concepts is developing, e.g. ‘today’, ‘yesterday’, ‘first’.