What is Early Years language and communication?

When we say Early Years language and communication we are talking about 3 main skills: listening, understanding and speaking. Have a look below at what each means at this level.


The first early learning goal described in the National Curriculum is that children will

...listen attentively in a range of situations. They listen to stories, accurately anticipating key events and respond to what they hear with relevant comments, questions or actions. [Early Learning Goal]

'Relevant comments, questions or actions' sounds pretty stuffy to us, but it does indicate learner engagement with a story. Children naturally pick up sounds we use in speech, and development of this faculty is helped hugely by as much exposure to story and song from as young an age as possible.

Over these years children will develop their ability to focus and will begin to join-in with repeated refrains in song, recall more information from stories, predict what might happen next, and follow directions to complete activities.

Phonemic awareness (learning the sounds of speech) should always be introduced before phonics (the sounds written out in print).  Thankfully this means singing, rhyming, story-telling, games and modelling language use, so lots of fun to be had! Have a look at the resources section of our website for some ideas on how to developing listening skills in Early years students.

Learning how to listen. As easy as eating a slice of watermelon.

Learning how to listen. As easy as eating a slice of watermelon.

'Do you understand?': not a very good question to ask

'Do you understand?': not a very good question to ask


Often a child's understanding will be greater than their ability to communicate at this age, and giving children the time to express themselves while recognising their competence can help to create a positive environment for early years development. Eventually children will...

...follow instructions involving several ideas or actions. They answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions about their experiences and in response to stories or events. [Early Learning Goal]

That may seem like a long way off for your child at the moment, but asking any type of question and allowing the time for your child to communicate an answer (regardless whether its right!) is a great way to start.

Looking for patterns in stories, predicting outcomes, looking at effects of actions and explaining consequences can all help to foster understanding at this age too. Furthermore, providing as many practical experiences as possible can give children concrete examples to refer to  -- so organising morning or afternoon trips to new places help children to develop understanding naturally.


In terms of speaking, by the beginning of year 1 children might...

...express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners’ needs. They [might] use past, present and future forms accurately when talking about events that have happened or are to happen in the future. They [might] develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events. [Early Learning Goal]

Providing opportunities for children to play is essential for Early learning, and giving as many opportunities for them to speak in different contexts and scenarios greatly enhances child development. As such, role play, free-play and interaction with different age groups (peers, older children and adults) is the extremely beneficial for children, allowing them to model language use and become better verbal communicators.

For more advice and the best resources on the web for developing Early Years speaking, have a look at our Early Years resources page.

'Hello? Yes, this is Baby. How can I help?'

'Hello? Yes, this is Baby. How can I help?'

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