Reception Understanding of Language

What is it?

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.

What to expect?

In Reception, children will usually:

  • Be able to follow two part instructions and be able to follow 4-5 key word instructions. Please see the early years toolkit for further information and screening tool.
  • Be able to answer ‘wh’ questions i.e. who, where, what, when.
  • 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.

Information & advice

You can help by:

  • Gaining the child’s attention before you speak.
  • Keeping language simple and emphasising key words using visuals when necessary.
  • Breaking down instructions into shorter, more manageable chunks. Avoid presenting too much information all at the same time.
  • Giving the child more time to respond (up to 10 seconds) and pausing between each step of an instruction to give the child time to process what you have said.
  • Making comments on what you or the child is doing, rather than asking lots of questions.
  • Repeating instructions/questions once, if the child still doesn’t understand simplify the instructions or give additional support e.g. gesture/visuals.
  • Repeating whole class instructions directly to the child and checking that they have understood what they need to do e.g. Asking specific about what they need to do. NB: children will often just say ‘yes’ when asked if they understand.
  • Teaching new concepts and vocabulary using a multi-sensory approach e.g. if working on the concept of ‘next to’:
    • Get the child to complete the activity themselves e.g. put themselves next to a variety of objects.
    • Get the child to put an object in different places e.g. put the toy next to the chair.
    • Use simple language to talk about the concept. “the teddy is next to the chair”.
    • Use pictures/ gesture for visual reinforcement.

Watch our video on understanding words, sentences and beyond.