Content is loading...

Hide this page Easy read and translate

Developing language

  • 5-11 Years
  • 11-19 Years
  • Child development and growing up
  • Speech, language and communication
Family writing on paper on small table

As children grow older, their list of words they know becomes bigger and more complicated. They learn new ways to put words together into sentences. Their understanding and comprehension of spoken, non-spoken and written communication also improves. 

Known words (vocabulary) 

Vocabulary is a set of words that are known by a person. Some people refer to a ‘basic’ vocabulary. This includes:

  • people’s names
  • animal names
  • body parts
  • household objects
  • colours
  • basic maths concepts like ‘big’ and ‘more’

It is incorrectly assumed that children will start school with this ‘basic’ vocabulary. Due to a variety of reasons some children may not know these words. This can go unnoticed for some time.

It can be hard for a child to learn lots of new words at one time. Try only introducing a maximum of 3 words at a time. To help your child understand more words, you need to speak to them using words they already know.

There are a few ways to help your child learn more words at home

Teaching action words (verbs)

When your child reaches a vocabulary of around 20-30 words, it will be helpful to teach them some action words (also known as doing words or verbs). These will help your child form longer word chains or phrases to express themselves.

Children who do not know a range of action words can have difficulties expressing themselves clearly. They will find it hard to make their sentences longer than 2 or 3 words.

The easiest way to teach action words is to describe the actions that your child can do or see such as jumping, climbing, and eating. It is harder to teach action words that cannot be seen such as to want or to like.

Ways to help your child learn action words:

Saying what you are doing whilst you and your child are doing the action. For example jumping together, tell your child that you are jumping.

Playing ‘Simon Says’. Whoever is ‘Simon’ gives out instructions such as “Simon says... touch your toes!”. The children must only perform the action if the sentence has “Simon says” at the start. 

Sing songs with actions such as ‘wheels on the bus’ or ‘here we go around the mulberry bush’.

Pointing out what people are doing in real life and in books.

When you feel confident your child understands the meanings of an action word you can ask them to use it in a sentence. You can introduce new action words as your child becomes more confident with the ones you are practicing.

Helping your child improve their grammar

The best way to teach your child to use good grammar is for you to use good grammar when you speak to them. Children learn a lot from repeatedly seeing or hearing it used correctly.

Do not stop a conversation to correct your child’s grammar. Try to maintain the conversation as you correct your child. For example:

Child: 'He come house'.

Adult: 'He came to your house, did he?'

Child: 'Yes'.

Child: 'He ran in the marathon and he was very ill, yeah' [vigorous nod]

Adult: 'He ran although he was ill? Or did it make him ill?'

This method strengthens the use of more mature language. It also means you can check your understanding of what they have said with them. This will help them become clearer with their meaning in the future.

Comprehension skills

Comprehension skills are the skills used to understand spoken, non-spoken and written communication.

Children should be encouraged to be aware of their understanding of words and sentences. They should be able to know when they have or have not understood an instruction, question, or sentence.

If your child can identify what or why they don’t understand, they can ask the speaker to explain what they mean. There are many reasons a child can’t understand for example:

“I don’t know what a patella is.”

“I couldn’t hear what you said, the lawnmower was going past.”

“Can you say it in a simpler way?”

There are a few strategies that may help your child understand easier:

Using visual reminders – these can help your child understand the order of events and activities.

Taking notes – this can help prompt or remind your child of important information. Notetaking will also help them when they become an adult as well.

Mental pictures – some children find picturing the situation or activity in their mind helpful. It may help them to close their eyes as they picture what is happening. This is especially useful when telling stories.

You can also play barrier games with your child to help with comprehension and understanding language. Read more about barrier games

Last reviewed: 1 November, 2023


Who can help

If you have concerns about your child’s language development you may want to discuss this with:

  • your health visitor, if your child is under 5 years old
  • the staff at your child’s school, if your child is in school
  • a professional, if your child is homeschooled visit the Speech and Language Therapy service page

They may have helpful suggestions to improve your child’s understanding.

You can Call Us on 0300 029 50 50 or Text Us on 07520 649887 to start a conversation.

Open Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm (excluding bank holidays).

Was this page helpful?

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

You must log in to save content

Click below to log in or create a new account


You must log in to save content

Click below to log in or create a new account