18+ years

This is a guide to how young people typically talk and understand words from the age of 18.

Young people develop skills at different rates, but from 18 years, most young people will:

  • Be able to follow complex directions.
  • Know when and why they don’t understand, and ask for help in a specific way: ‘Can you explain that to me again? I got the beginning but I didn’t understand the last step’.
  • Be skilled in using a range of arguments to persuade others.
  • Read and understand a wide variety of topics.
  • Fully understand sarcasm and be able to use it well: ‘Lovely weather again!’.
  • Follow instructions with complex words such as: ‘clarify’, ‘estimate’, ‘outline’.
  • Use a good range of descriptive words and expressions, for example, ‘dynamic’, ‘complimentary’, ‘succinct’.
  • Be able to use difficult joining words to make complex sentences, for example, ‘provided that’, ‘similarly’.
  • Be able to tell long and complex stories, making sure the listener understands the thread of the story throughout.
  • Use spoken sentences of 9 to 13+ words on average.
  • Be able to stay on one topic of conversation for long periods and move smoothly from one topic to another.
  • Be able to switch easily between informal and formal styles of talking depending on the audience, for example, ‘Off to work now for a meeting with my boss. Seeing my mates after… Better watch my mouth with Sam’s mum – was a bit rude last time’.

Support young people aged 18+ years with their talking and understanding of words

Talk for Work (formerly called Talk about Talk Secondary) is an evidenced targeted intervention that helps students aged 14 to 18 with difficulties in talking and understanding words to be ready for the workplace.
Learn more

Things to look out for

Some young people struggle to talk and understand words. Possible signs to look at for include:

  • Young people who have difficulty giving specific answers or explanations.
  • Young people who have difficulty telling their ideas in the right order.
  • Young people who are better at understanding individual instructions than group instructions.
  • Young people who find it difficult to understand hidden meanings. For example, they wouldn’t understand that someone wants to close the window or turn up the heating when they say, ‘It’s a bit chilly in here!’.
  • Young people who find long and complicated instructions hard to understand.
  • Young people who have trouble learning new words.
  • Young people who take a long time to organise what they are going to say or write.
  • Young people who take what others say literally. For example, they don’t understand that someone could take longer than one minute if they say, “I’ll be back in a minute”.
  • Young people who have difficulty taking turns in conversations.
  • Young people who talk to senior colleagues or staff and their friends in the same way, instead of adjusting their style of talking based on who they are talking to.

If you notice any of these things, have a closer look at the young person’s speech, language and communication skills using one of our free tools:

Follow the process in your setting/workplace for raising concerns. This should include discussing your concerns with the young person’s family and your SENCo. Statutory guidance is outlined in the SEND Code of Practice (2015).