Building Language


Libby Wallace

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In my clinic room, I have a picture of a house going through the stages of being built. It starts with a blank square, and then we add a door, roof, and windows. The final stage of development is the ‘finishing touches’ – curtains, a flowerbed, and a chimney. I love using this visual to talk with parents and clients about how our language develops – it starts with four walls, a floor and a ceiling - the foundations that are needed for the house's structure. Then we add in a door and a roof – the things that make the house functional. Next, we add windows, letting in the light and adding dimension to the house. Lastly, we add the decorations and flourishes – the things that make the house nice to look at, and pull everything together.

 To me, building language is like building a house.

For kids aged 1-2 years, their language development consists of walls, a ceiling, and a floor. At this age, kids can typically use single words and 2-word phrases, and use words to name objects (e.g. car, ball), actions (e.g. eat, go), locations (e.g. in, there), negatives (e.g. no, gone), and recurrence (e.g. more, again). The words and phrases that they use help them to communicate their basic wants and needs and interact with others, and provide a solid foundation for further language development.

As kids reach 2-3 years old, they become able to use 3-word phrases (e.g. car go down), and start to use more word forms including prepositions (e.g. in, out, on), plurals (e.g. cats, puppies), present progressive verbs (e.g. jumping), and pronouns (e.g. me, you, it). These word forms help kids to communicate even more about a greater variety of topics, and also helps them to be understood by others.

Kids in the 3-4 year age range typically start to expand their phrases to 3-5 words in length, and start to use more complex word types including determiners (a, the), possessives (e.g. mummy’s shoe), regular past tense verbs (e.g. jumped), more complex pronouns (e.g. he, she, we), and ‘is’. These word types add SO much more information and structure to kids’ language, and enables them to start telling stories about what happens in their day.

Once kids reach the 4-5 year old range, they are typically able to use sentences at least 5 words long, and use complex word structures including irregular past tense (e.g. ran, saw), contractible words (e.g. it’s, don’t), conjunctions (e.g. and, because), and possessive pronouns (e.g. his, her). These words give colour and description to sentences and pull together all of the language structures that the child is able to use.

When you talk to your child, pay attention to the types of words that they use – are they using words that are appropriate for their age and stage of development? If you’re not sure, contact us for some advice, or ask us for a handout on developmental norms and ideas for developing language skills at home!

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