Language Development: Five Year Olds

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Five is a big year for little ones as they will have started or will be about to make the big transition to school. Language development in this year involves a lot of expanding and refining the skills they’ve been working so hard on in the past years, and developing the ability to understand and use more complex and abstract language. The foundation of language abilities your child has developed will be incredibly important for your child’s success at school, and will help them to be ready to take advantage of the enormous amount of learning they will do in their first year of formal education.


When a typical child turns five, they will have a vocabulary of more than 2000 words. This is an enormous number, and includes both words that are central to your child’s experience (basic vocabulary), and peripheral to your child’s experience of the world around them. These peripheral words are vocabulary that does not need to be pulled out as often as our basic vocabulary, but is important for becoming an effective communicator. Around the five year mark is also when children begin to understand that some words can have more than one meaning (e.g. bark can mean the sound a dog makes or the outer layer of a tree). Most five year olds will be rapidly acquiring new words from the world around them, and their exposure to and acquisition of new words will speed up significantly when they get to school.


By five years of age your little one’s sentence formation will be almost like that of an adult, with only the occasional error. Their sentences will be lengthy, and they will also be forming more complex compound sentence forms. Words like because, to, then, but, when, etc. will help them to makes these compound sentences (e.g. I have to go to school because tomorrow is Monday).


Telling stories is another important aspect of language development that your five year old will be working on. They will be moving on from the “heaped” stories they’ve been producing in the years prior, and will develop a slightly more sophisticated narrative form with some structure. Most five year olds should be telling stories that include an initiating event, an action or conflict and then a consequence of the action or conflict. Their stories may or may not include a resolution to the conflict at this stage.

Receptive Language

By five, receptively, your child will be able to understand more than 5000 words (and some children as many as 20,000). They will be able to complete instructions involving multiple steps with ease, and are developing their comprehension of more abstract language. They are getting better at picking up inferred instructions (e.g. I think it’s time you cleaned your room up), understanding jokes and organising the world into semantic categories (e.g. food, animals, transport, etc.).

Phonological Awareness

Phonological Awareness is the awareness of the sound structures with words, and around the five year mark is when this skill should be beginning to emerge. Your child should start becoming aware that sounds make up words, point out beginning sounds of words (e.g. “ball” begins with a “b” sound), enjoy and even identify rhyme. These skills are very important for the development of literacy, and will develop even faster at school.


By five, your child should have no difficulty making themselves understood by others. They will have acquired almost all speech sounds, with only the “v” and “th” sounds that they may still need time to work on.

Learn more about typical language development with these other posts in our language development series:

Birth to Six Months
Six to Twelve Months

One Year Old
Two Years Old
Three Years Old
Four Years Old