Language Development

Language Development

Landing-LDThe development of children’s early language skills is critically important for their future academic success.

Language development indicators reflect a child’s ability to understand increasingly complex language (receptive language skills), a child’s increasing proficiency when expressing ideas (expressive language skills), and a child’s growing understanding of and ability to follow appropriate social and conversational rules. The components within this domain address receptive and expressive language, pragmatics, and English language development specific to multilingual learners.

For children who live in households where the primary spoken language is not English, this domain also addresses the language development of multilingual learners. Unlike most of the other progressions in this document, however, specific age thresholds do not define the indicators for English language development (or for development in any other language). Multilingual learners are exposed to their second language for the first time at different ages. As a result, one child may start the process of developing second language skills at birth and another child may start at four, making the age thresholds inappropriate. So instead of using age, The RIELDS use research-based stages to outline a child’s progress in English language development. It is important to note that there is no set time for how long it will take a given child to progress through these stages. Progress depends upon the unique characteristics of the child, their exposure to English in the home and other environments, the child’s motivation to learn English, and other factors.

Children with disabilities may demonstrate alternate ways of meeting the goals of language development. If a child is deaf or hard of hearing, for example, that child may demonstrate progress through gestures, signs, symbols, pictures, augmentative and/or alternative communication devices as well as through spoken words. Children with disabilities may also demonstrate alternate ways of meeting the same goals, often meeting them at a different pace, with a different degree of accomplishment, and in a different order than their peers. When observing how children demonstrate what they know and can do, the full spectrum of communication options – including the use of multiple languages (e.g., Spanish, American Sign Language), or low- and high-technology augmentative/assistive communication systems – should be considered. However, the goals for all children are the same, even though the path and the pace toward realizing the goals may be different. Principles of universal design for learning (UDL) offer the least restrictive and most inclusive approach to developing environments and curricula that best support the language development of all children.


When considering Principles of UDL, consider the variation in social and conversational norms across cultures. Crosstalk and eye-contact, for example may have varying degrees of acceptability in different cultures. While this domain represents general expectations for language development, each child will reach the individual standards at their own pace and in their own way.

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