Areas of Learning and Development: Prime area: Communication and Language

Nancy Stewart, principal consultant, Early Learning Consultancy
Friday, April 27, 2012

Nancy Stewart explains the changes to Communication and Language in the revised framework


'Communication and language development involves giving children opportunities to experience a rich language environment; to develop their confidence and skills in expressing themselves; and to speak and listen in a range of situations.' (Revised Statutory Framework, paragraph 1.6)


'Children's learning and competence in communicating, speaking and listening, being read to and beginning to read and write must be supported and extended. They must be provided with opportunity and encouragement to use their skills in a range of situations and for a range of purposes, and be supported in developing the confidence and disposition to do so.' (Current Statutory Framework, paragraph 2.9)

The existing area of Communication, Language and Literacy has been split in two: the Prime area of Communication and Language (CL) and the Specific area of Literacy (L).

The original educational programme includes some crucial elements that are left out of the new versions. While the new versions refer briefly to children's confidence and interest, they are predominately focused on building skills. The old version is a stronger statement of the role of the practitioner in:

  • supporting, extending and encouraging children
  • ensuring that the learning is meaningful as children use skills in different situations for real purposes, and
  • ensuring that children not only have language and literacy skills, but are keen to use them.

In practice, it will be important to remember that the 'rich language environment' mentioned in the CL programme must include attention to supporting children's enthusiasm and love of language, books, reading and writing, and that reading and writing is about much more than phonics.


The new goals are organised in a set of three new aspects, aimed at clarifying the developments that build up to enable children to be strong communicators. These are drawn from the aspects of communication and language development that have proved very useful to practitioners in understanding and supporting children through Every Child a Talker. Overall, the consultations showed general approval for the CL goals - 85 per cent or more of respondents were satisfied with them in the final consultation.


  • Listening and attention are now highlighted as building blocks of communication and language skills. This includes the development of 'integrated attention' - being able to multi-task to pay attention to more than one thing at a time.
  • Understanding was barely present in the old goals or Development Matters. The new goal includes specific abilities to understand and respond to a sequence of things said to them, and to understand more abstract questions such as 'how' and 'why'.
  • Speaking includes children using grammatical forms such as 'went', 'goes' and 'will go' to talk about events in time.
  • 'Narratives and explanations' is a new way of describing how children use language for thinking. It is clearer than the old goals about the level of language, specifying connecting ideas or events.


  • Enjoyment, and turning readily to language in play and learning, has been removed. The goals are intended to pinpoint typical development at around age five and to show progression from earlier stages. Enjoyment doesn't meet those criteria, because children - and even adults - enjoy language at any age.
  • Extending vocabulary and exploring new words is gone. Again, this is not exclusive to five-year-old children and covers a lifespan.


  • Interacting with others, negotiating plans and activities, is now part of Personal, Social and Emotional Development ('Making relationships').
  • Making up their own stories, songs, rhymes and poems has moved to Expressive Arts and Design ('Being imaginative').


  • There is no clear mention of non-verbal communication. Of course, babies communicate long before they use language, but this becomes no less important once children learn to speak. There will also be children with specific difficulties who may never speak, but communicate effectively in other ways.



  • CL is a Prime area, which marks its importance as a foundation for development across all areas. When planning activities, be aware that almost everything can be a communication and language opportunity. Think of specific vocabulary to introduce and reinforce by repeating in different contexts. Make conversation a part of everyday activities, and make indoor and outdoor spaces comfortable, inviting, stimulating places for talk.
  • Pay attention to how children pay attention. Being able to focus attention and listen underpins language, so practitioners need to understand the stages of how attention develops, and how to support at each stage. If assessment shows a weakness in attention and listening, it's important to start there in planning communication and language support.
  • Consider carefully what children understand, assessing how children respond to spoken language alone. It's easy to be fooled by a child who works things out from your body language, follows peers or fits in with routines. When you know what a child understands, you can pitch your language correctly to help them, and you can plan accurately to extend their understanding.
  • Children are most likely to develop more complex language when they talk about what they are most interested in. A good listener is essential for developing good talkers, so the adult role as a sensitive partner in sustained shared thinking about children's own activities, ideas, play, problems and questions is key.




Communication and Language

Listening and attention: children 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. They give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.

Understanding: children follow instructions involving several ideas or actions. They answer 'how' and 'why' questions about their experiences and in response to stories or events.

Speaking: children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners' needs. They use past, present and future forms accurately when talking about events that have happened or are to happen in the future. They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events.


Communication, language and literacy (CL only)

By the end of the EYFS, children should:

Language for communication

  • Interact with others, negotiating plans and activities and taking turns in conversation.
  • Enjoy listening to and using spoken and written language, and readily turn to it in their play and learning.
  • Sustain attentive listening, responding to what they have heard with relevant comments, questions or actions.
  • Listen with enjoyment, and respond to stories, songs and other music, rhymes and poems and make up their own stories, songs, rhymes and poems.
  • Extend their vocabulary, exploring the meanings and sounds of new words.
  • Speak clearly and audibly with confidence and control and show awareness of the listener.

Language for thinking

  • Use language to imagine and recreate roles and experiences.
  • Use talk to organise, sequence and clarify thinking, ideas, feelings and events.



1st consultation - Do you agree with the early learning goals relating to Communication and Language? Yes (56%), No (13%), Partly (29%) and Not sure (2%)

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