In this month’s blog I would like to talk about the amazing changes that occur in children’s language between 3 and 4 years of age.

Up until 3 years of age children will be most comfortable talking about the “here and now”. So they are happiest talking about what is right in front of them, such as “look, truck”. So it’s easy to follow their lead, make comments, and expand on their language such as “ yes, a big yellow truck”.

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The magic happens around 4 years of age, the age at which children start to talk about the “there and then”. This coincides conveniently as their lives begin to expand and they start attending Kindy and other outside groups. As their world expands and they want to talk about these new experiences, they need new language structures to support this growth.

To talk about the “there and then” they need an increased word bank. They need a bigger range of verbs and to use past tense both regular and irregular forms. Such as “we wented to the park with Grandma”. So this is a great opportunity to “recast” these new forms in a way that supports what they say but models the correct way such as “yes, you went to the park with Grandma and what did you see?”

They need new connecting words to join up their new experiences in the retelling such as “and, and then, because, so and but”. To be able to link two ideas together shows a huge increase in children’s complexity of language. Such as “and we saw a train and then we got an ice-cream” This linking of ideas is the first step towards “literate style" language which is vital for story telling, telling news and explaining games.

They also need to refer to people with pronouns such as “he, she, us, them, they and it”. These forms can get confusing for the language learning as we need to help these develop such as “we went with she” rather than “we went with her”. Pronoun use is a great window into children’s developing complexity of language.

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They also need to follow increasingly demanding instructions and understand a whole range of new commands such as “ firstly, secondly, next, after, before and lastly”

All of these structures and forms of language are exactly what children need to navigate their way through the first years of school. Therefore, their language moves along the oral/literate continuum. At home in the first years their language is “oral” in nature. For example, “put that there” can be understood perfectly when you are face to face and one on one. More “literate” language moves towards the written form of language. For example, “pick up the yellow pencil and draw a circle around the sun”. The language of instruction and description is much more specific. Children need exposure to this type of language before the formal processes of reading and writing begin.

This truly is a magical stage of language development. So get talking and listening for the development of the language of learning!

Information drawn from:

Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. London: George Allen & Unwin.

Love & Reilly (2012). Love and Reilly: Speech, language and literacy resources.

ABC Reading Eggs (2018). Where children learn to read!