Vocabulary and language development in children at 4-5 years
At this age, your child will begin to learn and use more:
- connecting words, like ‘when’ and ‘but’
- words that explain complicated emotions, like ‘confused’, ‘upset’ and ‘delighted’
- words that explain things going on in her brain, like ‘don’t know’ and ‘remember’
- words that explain where things are, like ‘between’, ‘above’, ‘below’ and ‘top’.
Your child is also learning more and more adjectives that help him explain things better – for example, ‘empty’ and ‘funny’.
In general, preschoolers understand many more words than they can use.
Sentences and grammar in language development
As part of her language development at this age, your child will speak in increasingly complex sentences by joining small sentences together using words like ‘and’ or ‘because’.
By five years, your child will begin to use many different sentence types. For example, he’ll be able to say both ‘The dog was chasing the cat’ and ‘The cat was chased by the dog’ to mean the same thing. And your child will be able to use long sentences of up to nine words.
Also by five years, your child will know all of the different word endings. For example, your child can add ‘er’ to the ends of words, so that words like ‘big’ turn into ‘bigger’. She might still make some mistakes though – for example, ‘They wants to go’ instead of ‘They want to go’.
Your child will develop the ability to talk about things that have happened in the past or will happen in the future, rather than just things that are happening right now. He’ll get better at using the past tense, as well as irregular plurals like ‘mice’ and pronouns like ‘him’, ‘his’ and ‘her’.
Understanding and language development
By five, your child will understand and use words that explain when things happen, like ‘before’, ‘after’ and ‘next week’. She might still have trouble understanding complicated ideas like ‘at the same time’. She might start asking questions if she doesn’t understand an instruction.
Your child will start to understand figures of speech like ‘You’re pulling my leg’ and ‘He’s a couch potato’.
And your child will follow directions with more than two steps, even if the situation is a new one. For example, ‘Give your ticket to the man over there, and he’ll tear it, and then we can go to the movie’. But your child might do what he hears first and ignore words that tell him the order he should do things in. For example, he might ignore the word ‘before’ in the sentence ‘Before we go into the movies, give your ticket to the man’.
Pronunciation in language development
By the time your child is 4½ years old, strangers can understand almost every word your child says.
Your child might still have trouble using some speech sounds – for example, saying ‘fing’ for ‘thing,’ ‘den’ for ‘then’ or ‘wing’ for ‘ring’. She might also occasionally mispronounce some complex words by missing sounds – for example, saying ‘amblance’ instead of ‘ambulance’ or ‘paghetti’ instead of ‘spaghetti’.
Developing conversation and storytelling
Your child will keep getting better at storytelling, although he might sometimes give too much or not enough information. He might also have trouble telling things in order and making it clear who he’s talking about. His story endings might not make sense or might seem sudden.
But your child will also be better at seeing things from other people’s points of view, so she might add useful background information in conversation. For example, ‘I went to Max’s and we had cake and Max is from my preschool’.
Your child will be getting better at taking turns in conversations with a group of people. And he’ll start talking at the right volume for the situation. He might make requests more politely, using words like ‘can’, ‘would’ and ‘could’. His requests might also be less direct and obvious. For example, he might say, ‘That smells good!’ when he wants something to eat.
And your child will begin to use language to tease and tell jokes. She might laugh at silly or made-up words.
Children grow and develop at different rates. The information in this article is offered as a guide only. If your child’s language development is a long way behind other children her age or you’re concerned, for any other reason, speak with your GP
or child and family health nurse
. You can also speak with a speech pathologist
. If your health professional doesn’t have concerns about your child, but you still do, it’s OK to get another opinion.