The key stages of children's language development

May 2012
Can you identify the linguistic steps children take on their journey to mastering a language?

From the moment they are born, children are already laying the foundation for language acquisition, as they begin to discern individual sounds and words.

There are a number of stages that children will need to go through in order to gain fluency in both their oral and written communication skills.

Below is a brief overview of the linguistic steps children will take on their journey to mastering a language.

Pre-reading skills
Before children begin to read independently, they are developing a number of pre-reading skills such as hand-eye co-ordination, creating mental images as they process information, using their senses to read the immediate environment and taking an interest in being read to and turning pages/looking at illustrations.

Phoneme and Grapheme awareness
In this stage children begin to identify individual sounds within words (phonemes) and their corresponding letters (graphemes). They will then begin to apply this knowledge to decoding words. Children will also begin to identify basic spelling patterns and rules as well as structuring simple sentences.

Application of grammar
Once children have become more confident in their basic phonetic knowledge and syntax, they can then move on to adding basic punctuation (such as full stops) to their sentences. They may also begin to understand the function of adjectives, connectives, verbs and other facets of grammar.

Complex sentences and structures
At this stage children will begin to introduce both indirect and direct speech into their written work and begin to organise their thoughts using paragraphs. They will also start to summarise their ideas using paraphrasing. Children will also start to create complex sentences, with an independent clause and a relative clause, such as 'I ate the meal that you cooked'.

Use of literary devices and the ability to interpret texts
When children feel confident in the language that they are learning, they can begin to use literary devices such as persuasion and summarise their thoughts in a concise manner.

Elements of critique, text analysis
As children read texts at this level they will begin to identify key themes, plots and character motivations. They will also be able to give more detailed answers to comprehension questions, at times using evidence from the text to support their answers.