Understanding Language


Children must learn to understand the language that they hear before they can use this language to communicate with others. A child’s understanding will usually be ahead of their ability to use spoken language.

As children grow and develop the range of words that they understand will increase and they will be able to follow longer and more grammatically complex sentences.

In Reception, children will usually:

  • understand sequencing & order words e.g. first, after, last
  • predict simple actions e.g. what happens next
  • understand simple humour e.g. laughs at simple jokes appropriately
  • categorise items and pick odd one out
  • understand more complex position words, e.g. above / below / between and adjectives, e.g. soft / hard

You can help by:

  • Gaining the child’s attention before you speak.
  • Keeping language simple and emphasising key words.
  • Breaking down instructions into shorter, more manageable chunks.
  • Pausing between each step of an instruction to give the child time to process what you have said.
  • Repeating whole class instructions directly to the child and checking that they have understood what they need to do.
  • Avoiding presentation of too much new information all at the same time.
  • Pre-teaching, overlearning and revising key topic vocabulary.
  • Using a multi-sensory approach when presenting new vocabulary.
  • Always presenting language in context.
  • Trying to make comments on what you or the child are doing, rather than asking lots of questions.
  • Giving the child more time to respond (up to 10 seconds)
  • Supporting spoken language with visual and practical activities and materials.
  • Using gesture as well as language, especially for new concepts.
  • Encouraging the child to tell you when they do not understand.
  • Repeating instructions/questions several times, as necessary. Sometimes it helps to rephrase what you have said. Show the child what you mean if necessary, repeating the language as you do so.
  • Supporting the child’s ability to problem solve, justify and make inferences (Blank level 4 of abstract language) by using cueing techniques, such as starting a sentence for them to complete or giving two alternatives. You can also ask the child to solve problems in real everyday situations e.g. “Why are your trousers muddy?”