Receptive and Expressive Language

Receptive and Expressive Language

There are two different areas of language: receptive and expressive.  Receptive language is the ability to understand both nonverbal (e.g. gestures) and verbal language.  This includes the ability to understand the meaning of words, concepts (e.g. big/little, hot/cold, first/last, etc.), questions, and figurative language.  Expressive Language refers to the use or output of language.  This includes the use of a variety of words and how those words are put together to form phrases, sentences, and stories.

Children with receptive language delays or disorders may have difficulty following directions, difficulty with reading comprehension, difficulty sequencing events, and difficulty understanding spoken or written language.

Children with expressive language delays or disorders may have a limited expressive vocabulary, poor grammar skills, difficulty defining and describing words, and difficulty producing complete sentences.

The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) lists some early signs to help determine if your child has a language disorder including:

  • Doesn’t smile or interact with others (birth–3 months)
  • Doesn’t babble (4–7 months)
  • Makes few sounds (7–12 months)
  • Does not use gestures (e.g., waving, pointing) (7–12 months)
  • Doesn’t understand what others say (7 months–2 years)
  • Says only a few words (12–18 months)
  • Doesn’t put words together to make sentences (1½–3 years)
  • Has trouble playing and talking with other children (2–3 years)
  • Has problems with early reading and writing skills-for example, may not show an interest in books or drawing (2½–3 years)

ASHA states that “any speech or language problem is likely to have a significant effect on the child’s social and academic skills and behavior.  The earlier a child’s speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is that problems will persist or get worse.  Early speech and language intervention can help children be more successful with reading, writing, schoolwork, and interpersonal relationships.”

Speech therapists at Jennifer Katz, Inc., recommend the following strategies:

  • Read to the child daily.
  • Use common functional phrases repeatedly (e.g. Ready-Set-Go).  Once these words and phrases have been used repeatedly, introduce hesitations before the last word in the phrase to give the child a chance to fill-in the word.
  • Accept the child’s word approximations while providing him/her the correct model in return.
  • Talk about actions during play and daily routines.
  • Offer verbal praise when he/she does use a word or sound to request.
  • Encourage the child to use his/her words once he/she has learned a specific word.  Increase your expectations that the child will use language.  When he/she uses a word, repeat it back to him/ her.
  • Speak in concise verbal statements that are approximately one word longer than the child’s during each interaction. (child: “Car”, Parent: “Blue Car”)
  • Apraxia of Speech

Read more about this in our blog post “Language—all day, every day” for tips and tricks.