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Focus On - Oral Language


Oral language is an important part of communication and literacy.  Research has shown that children with a language impairment are six times more likely to have a reading problem than children without (DETE, 2015).  Below is some more information that will help you develop the skills of your children.


Even though each child develops communication skills in slightly different ways, there are certain ‘milestones’ that can be identified as a rough guide to normal development. Good communication skills are essential for learning at school and important for everyday life.


Language is a person’s ability to understand and to express their thoughts using sounds, gestures, spoken words or written language. A child often learns to understand what is said before they begin to speak and join words to express themselves.

By the age of four, your child should be able to:

  • Understand shape and colour names

  • Ask who, what and why questions

  • Use lots of words (over 900), and can usually put four or five words together in a sentence

  • Use correct grammar with occasional mistakes, such as "I falled down"

  • Use language when playing with other children

  • Speak clearly enough to be understood by most people

  • Use language for a variety of reasons (e.g. ask questions, request items, reject items, comment)

By the age of five, your child should be able to:

  • Understand opposites, such as high and low, wet and dry, big and little

  • Use six words in a sentence with correct grammar

  • Talk about events which are happening, have happened or might happen

  • Explain why something happens, such as "The boy is crying because he dropped his ice-cream"

  • Explain the function of objects, for example, "This fridge keeps things cold so they don’t go rotten"

  • Follow three directions, for example, "Stand up, get you shoes on and wait by the door"

  • Say how they feel and tell you their ideas

  • Become interested in writing, numbers and reading things

  • Speak clearly enough to be understood by anyone


What Pre-Literacy Skills should my child have by five - six years of age?

  • Know which way to hold a book

  • Recognise that writing (letters) look different to pictures

  • Are aware that you read from left-to-right

  • Hear and make rhyming words

  • Hear and count syllables/beats in words

  • Make sentences with words that start with the same sound (e.g., big brown bear).

  • Children can tell you what the first sound is in their name and what the letter is called

  • They can break up the sounds in a small word (e.g., “c-a-t”)

  • Start to recognise that spoken sounds can be matched to written letters

NOTE: If English is not your child’s first language, it may take your child a bit longer to learn these skills


Speech involves using your voice box parts and parts of your mouth and throat to shape and produce sounds. Many children exhibit some common speech errors during early childhood. However, by age eight, children should be able to say all sounds correctly.

Speech difficulties can impact upon other aspects of your child’s life, such as their self-esteem, and ability to read and spell.

By five years of age...

  • Adults should be able to understand 75- 100% of a child’s speech

  • Children may still have trouble with these sounds: j, s, z, r, v, and th.

  • A child’s speech should NOT appear effortful



  • Stuttering is not a part of normal speech development

  • Deleting the first or middle sounds of words

  • Speech that is hard to understand


  • Not able to follow 2-step directions (e.g. go to the kitchen and get your cup)

  • Difficulties answering simple questions

  • Not putting sentences together

  • Sentences often don’t make sense


  • Get your child’s hearing tested.

Please call the Ipswich Community Health Centre on 1800 607 030 for a free hearing test. Bookings can be made at either Ipswich Health Plaza for the Goodna Community Health Centre.

Speech and language tips:

  • Avoid finishing your child’s sentences

  • If you are having difficulty understanding what your child is saying, DO NOT pretend that you understand. Instead, try asking your child for more information (e.g. “Can you show me?”)

  • Always acknowledge, praise and encourage your child after they have spoken

  • Read with your child – discuss happened in the beginning, middle and end of the story. Encourage your child to make up a different ending

  • Always model correct grammar (e.g. if you child says “Yesterday he drawed” you could repeat back “Oh yesterday he drew”). Emphasise the correct word.

  • Try and use open questions (e.g. What happens next? What if? What now?) , instead of questions that bombard the child or answer themselves (e.g. repeated use of “what’s that?”)

  • Play games such as “I Spy”. This can help children develop and awareness of sounds in words.