Some parents consider language development to be an early childhood event, but your child's communication skills are steadily building as she grows. While the majority of your child's basic skill building occurs in the first few years, the grade-school stage is a time of refinement and gaining language sophistication.
Language Development Definitions
It's easy to think of language development as learning how to speak. While the ability to speak is certainly a key part, language development is much more than forming words. According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, language includes "socially shared rules." These include the meanings of words, pairing words together, making new words such as adding a prefix or suffix and the appropriate use of words in specific circumstances. The American Speech Language Hearing Association notes that the definition of speech is the "verbal means of communicating," which differs in essence from language development. Although speech and language, in their true definitions, are not synonymous, they are often lumped together under the category of general language or communication development.
Early Middle Childhood
Although middle childhood includes the grade school years, this isn't just one singular period of development. Younger grade-schoolers certainly have different skills and abilities than your fifth-grader does. The American Speech Language Hearing Association breaks language and communication development down by grade level expectations. For example, a first-grader should have listening skills such as responding to instructions and following a three-step sequence, can speak in a manner that is easily understood, uses complete sentences, takes turns in conversations, initiates conversations and can blend sounds to create words. By second grade, kids can also ask and answer a variety of "wh" questions such as who or where, clarify their verbal expressions and ideas, give up to four-step directions and stay on topic easily during conversations. Additional language development during the third grade includes listening and speaking during group discussions, using subject-related words and mastery of basic phonic concepts.
Later Middle Childhood
Your child will keep refining and gaining skills through the remainder of the grade school years. The American Speech Language Hearing Association notes that by the end of fourth grade, most children can use correct vocabulary during conversation, effectively use language for different purposes such as at school or at home with mom and dad, can restate ideas, and can make oral speeches and presentations. Fifth-graders can do all of these and maintain appropriate eye contact while using speech and language, and use gestures while talking.
Your child's language development doesn't happen without any external influences. Parents, teachers and even peers can help to further the grade-schoolers language and communication skills. Your little one might have the basics down when she reaches elementary school, but you can help language development prosper. For example, the website for Scholastic Parents suggests language games such as Scrabble or hand-made flashcards help make learning new vocabulary words more entertaining and interesting for children.