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 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 e.g. ‘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’. 

Resource library for families

Our expert team of speech and language professionals have produced a range of factsheets, based on our most frequently asked questions from parents and families, to help you support your child.
Learn more

Things to look out for 

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

  • Your family member has difficulty giving specific answers or explanations. 
  • Your family member has difficulty telling their ideas in the right order. 
  • Your family member is better at understanding individual instructions than group instructions.  
  • Your family member finds 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!’. 
  • Your family member has finds long and complicated instructions hard to understand. 
  • Your family member has trouble learning new words. 
  • Your family member takes a long time to organise what they are going to say or write. 
  • Your family member takes 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”. 
  • Your family member has difficulty taking turns in conversations. 
  • Your family member talks 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. 

For tips on how you can support your family member’s communication skills, have a look at some of our resources for families.

If you notice any of these things, discuss them with your childfamily member and support them to talk to their education providers, work setting or GP. You can also contact our free speech and language advice line, which is a confidential phone call with an experienced speech and language therapist. During the 30-minute call, you will be given the opportunity to talk through your concerns and questions regarding your childfamily member’s development. You can book your phone call here.