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Language Development in Teenagers

Language development shifts in the teen years from basic grammar mastery to the use of language on a higher level. In the teen years, your child should develop the ability to use more complex syntax and to adapt her oral and written communication to her audience, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Teens demonstrate the most progress in writing skills when they are challenged with tasks that stretch them beyond the basic transmission of information.

Continuing Evolution

Although children develop language fluency well before adolescence, their oral and written language use evolves over the teen years. During this time, your child should demonstrate improvement in abstract thinking skills, which will enable him to make word associations and to understand syntax better. Teens’ use of language also reflects their sensitivity to how their peers perceive them. Your child may, for example, begin to use foul language in an attempt to fit it or to prove he is tough.

Brain Changes

A 2001 study carried out jointly between the National Institute for Mental Health and the University of California Los Angeles discovered that brain development continues into the teenage years. The researchers said physical changes in the portion of the brain associated with language learning begin in early childhood but decline dramatically after age 12. In the teen years, there is growth in the frontal lobe, where cognitive processing takes place. In live testing of brain response to a language skills task, researchers saw a shift from activity in the temporal lobe--normally associated with language--to the cognitive center in the frontal lobe as teens matured.

Language Disorders

Teens who have language development disorders may exhibit a variety of symptoms, some of which adults may easily confuse with behavioral issues, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. These include “class clown” behavior, extreme forgetfulness, withdrawal or failure to take turns when speaking. Other symptoms, such as incorrect grammar usage and poor vocabulary, are more obviously language-related. If your teen has a language disorder, she may have problems with input--processing information conveyed to her--and/or with output--the ability to express herself orally or in writing, according to Mass General Hospital for Children.


Because junior highs and high schools rely heavily on lectures and books to convey information, teens with language development deficiencies may fall behind in all their subjects 1. They may struggle to understand information provided to them, and they also may have difficulty in organizing information and understanding instructions, notes the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Their social relations also may suffer if they have difficulty in interpreting body language or understanding informal language use, such as slang, idioms or puns. If your teen has these difficulties, a specialist may be able to help him develop alternate strategies for learning new information and improving his language skills.

Social Media

The extraordinary amount of time teens spend in Internet chat rooms or using instant messaging and texting software may have an impact on their language skills. Citing research by Lancaster University, British Communication Champion for Children Jean Gross points out that these media have led teenagers to pare down their daily vocabulary to just 800 words, although they know an average of 40,000 words, according to the Daily Telegraph 23. Gross expressed concern that teens will lose the ability to communicate formally, which will make it harder for them to find employment.