Examples of Linguistic Characteristics and Abilities

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

The table below lists the developmental trends of linguistic characteristics and abilities for children from kindergarten to high school.

Grade Level Age-Typical Characteristics Suggested Strategies
  • Knowledge of 8,000-14,000 words by age 6
  • Difficulty understanding complex sentences (e.g., those with multiple clauses)
  • Overdependence on word order and context (instead of syntax) when interpreting messages
  • Superficial understanding of being a "good listener" (e.g., just sitting quietly)
  • Literal interpretations of messages and requests (e.g., not , realizing that "Goodness, this class is noisy" means "Be quiet")
  • Increasing ability to tell a story
  • Mastery of most sounds; some difficulty pronouncing r, th, dr, sl, and str
  • Occasional use of regular word endings (-s, -ed, -er) with irregular words (sheeps, goed, gooder)
  • Basic etiquette in conversations (e.g., taking turns, answering questions)
  • Reluctance to initiate conversations with adults (for many students from Asian and Mexican American backgrounds)
  • Read age-appropriate storybooks as a way of enhancing vocabulary.
  • Give corrective feedback when students' use of words indicates inaccurate understanding.
  • Work on listening skills (e.g., sitting quietly, paying attention, trying to understand and remember).
  • Ask follow-up questions to make sure students accurately understand important messages.
  • Ask students to construct narratives about recent events (e.g., "Tell me about your camping trip last weekend").
  • Increasing understanding of temporal words (e.g., before, after) and comparatives (e.g., bigger, as big as)
  • Occasional confusion about when to use the versus a
  • Incomplete knowledge of irregular word forms
  • Increasing awareness of when sentences are and are not grammatically correct
  • Pronunciation of all sounds in one's language mastered by age 9
  • Sustained conversations about concrete topics
  • Increasing ability to take listeners' prior knowledge into account during explanations
  • Construction of stories with plots and cause-and-effect relationships
  • Linguistic creativity and word play (e.g., rhymes, word games)
  • Teach irregular word forms (e.g., the past tense of ring is rang, the past tense of bring is brought).
  • Begin instruction about parts of speech.
  • Use group discussions as a way to explore academic subject matter.
  • Have students develop short stories to present orally or in writing.
  • When articulation problems are evident in the upper elementary grades, consult with a speech-language pathologist.
  • Encourage jokes and rhymes that capitalize on double meanings and homonyms (i.e., sound-alike words).
  • Knowledge of about 50,000 words at age 12
  • Increasing awareness of the terminology used in various academic disciplines
  • Some confusion about when to use various connectives (but, yet, although, unless)
  • Ability to understand complex, multiclause sentences
  • Emerging ability to look beyond literal interpretations; comprehension of simple proverbs and increasing ability to detect sarcasm
  • Emerging ability to carry on lengthy conversations about abstract topics
  • Significant growth in metalinguistic awareness
  • Assign reading materials that introduce new vocabulary.
  • Introduce some of the terminology used by experts in various academic disciplines (e.g., simile in language arts, molecule in science).
  • Conduct structured debates to explore controversial issues.
  • Present proverbs and ask students to consider their underlying meanings.
  • Explore the nature of words and language as entities in and of themselves.


  • Knowledge of about 80,000 words
  • Acquisition of many vocabulary words specifically related to various academic disciplines
  • Subtle refinements in syntax, mostly as a result of formal instruction
  • Mastery of a wide variety of connectives (e.g., although, however, nevertheless)
  • General ability to understand figurative language (e.g., metaphors, proverbs, hyperbole)
  • Consistently use the terminology associated with various academic disciplines.
  • Distinguish between similar abstract words (e.g., weather vs. climate, velocity vs. acceleration).
  • Explore complex syntactic structures (e.g., multiple embedded clauses).
  • Consider the underlying meanings and messages in poetry and fiction.
  • When students have a native dialect other than Standard English, encourage them to use it in informal conversations and creative writing; encourage Standard English for more formal situations.

Sources: Bowey, 1986; L. Bradley & Bryant, 1991; Capelli, Nakagawa, & Madden, 1990; S. Carey, 1978; Delgado-Gaitan, 1994; Karmiloll-Smith, 1979; Maratsos, 1998; McDevitt et aI., 1990; McDevitt & Ford, 1987; Nippold, 1988; O'Grady, 1997; Owens, 1996; Reich, 1986; Sheldon, 1974; Stanovich, 2000; Swanborn & de Glopper, 1999; Thelen & Smith, 1998.

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