The language skills of four-year-olds progress rapidly. They begin communicating in complex and compound sentences, have very few pronunciation errors and expand their vocabularies daily. They can follow multi-step directions and understand explanations given for things they can see. Four-year-olds frequently initiate conversations, are less likely to change the subject of conversation to areas of personal interest and are getting better at sharing personal experiences.
At 48 months, understands 2500 to 3000 words. Acquires an average of 2000 additional words during this year.
The average child has the capacity to acquire four to six words per day, given access to new words in his or her daily experiences.
Continues to learn words when adults name objects, and increases ability to infer word meanings from context. Many new words are also learned through new experiences, and from hearing picture books read aloud.
Expands known words for various conceptual clusters (e.g., seed, stem, leaf, roots, bark, trunk; wing, beak, feathers; fins, gills, scales; button, zipper, snap, buckle; shoes, boots, sandals, slippers; moon, sun, stars, clouds).
Also, learns more time words (e.g., yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week, weekend, morning, afternoon, night), money words (e.g., penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar), mental state words (e.g., know, don't know, forget, remember, wonder) and complex emotion words (e.g., disappointed, surprised, proud, perplexed, frustrated, curious, delighted).
Becomes more precise in the words used to communicate (e.g., toppled, dove, raced, scampered, fluttered, soaked, brittle, fragile, sturdy, bold, timid, skeleton).
Begins to understand figures of speech (e. g., "quick as a wink", "slow as molasses").
Follows multi-step directions in novel situations, especially when the next action follows naturally from the previous action (e.g., "Okay, find the corner of the pudding packet that says 'cut here.' Use your scissors to cut right on the dotted line you see there, and then dump the pudding powder into your bowl.
Increases ability to understand explanations when concrete objects and actions support the verbal explanation, and phenomena are directly observable (e.g., "When we mix colors, we get a new color. See what color you get when you mix yellow with blue."). Begins to understand explanations of events that have not been experienced directly, as long as the child has had similar experiences.
Perception of speech sounds that aren't used in native language continues to decrease. Exposure to a second or a third language helps children to continue to perceive a wider range of speech sounds, making learning a second language easier.
Uses appropriate levels of volume, tone and inflection.
From age three on, it is difficult to measure actual productive vocabulary, but the number of words that children understand is always larger than the number of words they actually use. As children understand more words, there will be changes in the nature of the words children use for speaking and writing.
A lack of detailed vocabulary leads children to use words that are more general or are descriptions of contexts. For example, a child might call a skeleton a "monster," or may say, "the bones in your body." A child might say "card" for a card that is an invitation. A child might say "snake" for an animal that is a lizard. A child might say, "It's for your bicycle.", when referring to a picture of a bicycle tire.
Very few pronunciation errors in most children.
Begins communicating in complex and compound sentences, and has mastered most rules related to sentence structure.
Makes fewer mistakes with irregular words in the past tense and in plural form. May continue to make errors with words heard infrequently.
Initiates the telling of personal experiences and tells more complete stories from the start. Prompts may still be needed to provide details to someone unfamiliar with the event. Or a child may include a lot of unessential details. Often begins the story by telling about events in sequence, but then jumps around to fill in more details. (The skill of sharing personal experiences is highly dependent on practice, and on how well adults provide guidance in current and previous years.)
Initiates conversations frequently.
Finds it easier now than in the previous year to wait for a turn in a group conversation.
Still tends to want to use turn to relate information of personal interest regardless of topic established, but topic maintenance has improved from the previous year, and continues to improve during this year.
Has more skill now in talking on the phone because of an increased ability to talk about events in the recent past, as opposed to things in the "here and now."