TEENAGE TALK: 4 ways to monitor your teenager's language development

Previously we wrote about 5 things you can do to be a part of your child's language learning journey, and this article is a continuation of language development in children as they grow older and smarter, into young adults - teenagers. Teenagers’ conversations are usually generously sprinkled with inventive new words such as Chillaxing (Chill +Relaxing), BF4L (Best Friends For Life), Busted (ugly) and MOS (mom over shoulder). This invention of new words and/or new usages for existing words can be attributed to the ongoing development of language skills in the teenage years. Very often, the parents we have worked with have shared with us that they notice a change in their children's speaking patterns and usage of vocabulary as soon as they enter secondary school. While understanding their new, trendy lingo and trying to adapt to communicate with them (a totally different issue on its own, which we will be addressing in our next article), parents have also raised their concerns when they notice their teenagers' grades dropping in language subjects. Before we decide to deprive our teenagers of their 'cool factor' in an attempt to improve their grades, it is important for educators and parents to understand that this is is a phase in their neurological development.

The adolescent period sees significant neurological changes. This period usually involves the maturation of the prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum; allowing teenagers to better process mental tasks and develop higher order thinking skills. They should also be more capable of processing abstract meaning and possess improved reasoning and analytical skills. Hence, although the fundamental skills required for language acquistion are mainly picked up during middle childhood; language develops further during the teenage years, as it prepares them for communication in the adult world.

Some significant developmental milestones in the teenage years include:

  • Ability to process expository texts

  • Increased usage of figurative language

  • More complex sentence structure

  • Ability to tell/write stories with more complexity and details

  • Emergence of sophisticated language skills, especially negotiation and persuasion

  • Ability to read social situations and use appropriate language

  • Ability to self-reflect

It should be also noted that social development plays a vital role in this stage of life. The abovementioned words are examples of ‘teenage talk'. This language style plays a crucial part in identity formation, as it helps to differentiate teenagers from the adult world (which they are preparing to enter) and the children world (which they just exited). 'Teenage talk' involves non-standard grammar, usage of slang and inventive usage of existing vocabulary. Many adolescents pick up such language for assimilation and social acceptance amongst their peers.

While 'teenage talk' is admirable for its creativity, it can pose certain challenges for some adolescents. Being a form of communication that is heavily used in texting and/or chatting, 'teenage talk' can affect a teenager’s communication skills when kept unchecked. It can lead to lowered language competencies when it comes to formal language usage, if there is high dependency on 'teenage talk' to articulate oneself. This has become the case with some teenagers in UK, whose vocabulary comprises of only 800 words instead of the expected 40 000, raising concerns about their employability in the future. While ‘teenage talk’ is not all bad, teenagers should be able to switch language styles as and when necessary.

Hence, here are the 4 things parents or caregivers can do to monitor their teenager's language development during adolescence:

  1. Eavesdropping on teenagers’ conversations whilst riding the train can prove to be rather educational. You will be able expand your vocabulary (with words usually found in the Urban Dictionary) and also catch a glimpse of what makes these youngsters tick.

  2. Attempting to monitor media dependency and exposing them to varied reading materials

  3. Encouraging usage of formal language instead of overly depending on ‘text language’ or ‘teenage talk’

  4. Keeping an open channel of communication with teenagers to encourage self-expression and articulation of emotions. Speaking to adults might encourage the use of formal language, allowing them to be better able to switch language styles when required.


1. Whitmire, K. A. (2000). Adolescence as a Developmental Phase: A tutorial. Topics in Language Disorders , 20 (2), 1-14.

2. Gavin, M. L. (2014, August). Communication and your 13 to 18 year-old. Retrieved 1 26, 2015, from KidsHealth: http://kidshealth.org/parent/growth/communication/comm_13_to_18.html#

3. Oswalt, A. (n.d.). The Maturing Adolescent Brain. (C.E.Zupanick, Ed.) Retrieved 01 26, 2015, from Seven Counties Services: http://www.sevencounties.org/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=41158&cn=1310

4. Eckert, P. Adolescent Language. In E. F. eds, Language in the USA. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press .

5. Salked, L. (2010, 1 11). The teens who can barely talk- they only have an 800 word vocabulary. Retrieved 1 27, 2015, from DailyMailOnline: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1242056/Teenspeak-youngsters-unemployable-limited-vocabulary.html

6. Welton, R. (n.d.). Language Development in Teenagers. Retrieved 1 27, 2015, from GlobalPost: http://everydaylife.globalpost.com/language-development-teenagers-2671.html

7. Hartshorne, M. (2011). Speech,Language and Communication in Secondary Aged Pupils. I CAN. London: I CAN. Retrieved from: http://www.ican.org.uk/~/media/Ican2/Whats%20the%20Issue/Evidence/ICAN_TalkSeries10.ashx

8. Greco, P. (n.d.). Say What? A Glossary of Teen Slang. Retrieved 01 26, 2015, from WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/glossary-teen-slang

Alternatively, you can also enroll them in workshops or programmes that aid in language development. Brainworks Education conducts several programmes such as Public Speaking and Essay Writing, which aid in language growth, build confidence and encourage social interaction.

Adolescence can also be a confusing period in life for many teenagers, as they yearn for some direction or solutions to unfamiliar problems. Brainworks Education can provide a helping hand for struggling teenagers and/or parents of teenagers through our Life Coaching services as well.

Contact us now at hello@brainworks.sg to find out more!

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