Skip to main content


Language development - age 4 to 5 years


Children vary in how they develop speech and language skills. However, they follow a natural timetable for mastering the skills of language. Below is a checklist of normal speech and language milestones in children from 4 to 5 years of age.

At 4 to 5 years, your child should be able to do the following:

  • Pay attention to short stories and answer simple questions about them
  • Understand most of what is said at home and at school
  • Communicate easily with other children and adults
  • Give details in sentences and use adult-like grammar
  • Stick to the topic when explaining something or telling a story
  • String together ideas in an understandable sequence
  • Answer simple “why” questions
  • Use speech that is easy to understand; although your child may have some errors in pronouncing words.

What you can do to help

  • Give full attention to your child when he is speaking, whenever possible.
  • Be sure to get your child’s undivided attention before speaking to him.
  • Build on your child’s vocabulary by providing definitions for new words and using them in context. “This vehicle is riding on the highway. It is a car. A bus is another kind of vehicle. So are a train and an airplane.”
  • Encourage your child to ask questions if he does not understand what a word means.
  • Talk about spatial relationships (between, under, first in line), and encourage your child to do the same.
  • Point out things that are the same or different, and talk about how.
  • Sort items into categories. Now try to sort them by pointing out smaller differences between objects (rocks that are smooth vs. those that are rough, heavy vs. light, big vs. small). Have your child identify the object that does not belong in a given category and explain why the item does not belong.
  • Read stories with easy-to-follow plots. Help your child predict what will happen next in the story. Act out the stories and put on puppet shows of the stories. Have your child draw a picture of a scene from the story or a favorite part. You can do the same thing with videos and television shows. Ask who, what, when, where, and why questions.
  • Expand on your child’s reading memory and expressive language skills by playing “I Spy.” (I spy something round on the wall that you use to tell the time.)
  • Have your child help you plan and talk about daily activities. Have him make a shopping list for the grocery store or help plan his birthday party. Ask his opinion. “What do you think your cousin would like for his birthday? What kind of fruit do we need to buy at the store?”
  • Read books with rhyming words. Have your child make up nonsense rhyming words.

Adapted from materials from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association,


If you have questions about language development, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).