Expressive vs. Receptive Language Development

by | Dec 19, 2022 | News

As children begin learning how to communicate, they develop receptive and expressive language skills. Most everyone develops language along a structured timeline, though every child will have unique milestones. Sometimes, both expressive and receptive language delays can occur during development. Typically, language delays are addressed with speech therapy and an individualized care plan. Find out more about the differences between expressive and receptive language and what to do if you suspect your child has a language delay.

What To Know About Receptive Language 

Receptive language encompasses active listening, but sometimes even the most astute listener cannot understand what is being communicated if they have a receptive language disorder. Receptive language disorders are characterized by a delay or disconnect between what someone is trying to communicate and what the receptive party understands. 

Receptive Language Disorders 

Language includes words, gestures, body language, and other forms of active communication that can confuse children who struggle to develop receptive language skills. For example, Fani can communicate her needs to her mother by pointing and making noises; she does not understand when her mother asks her what she wants or points to objects to give Fani directions.

What To Know About Expressive Language 

Expressive language comprises the other end of the communication spectrum. While receptive language is on the receiving end of communication, expressive language is produced by the person who is communicating. It doesn’t only include words, however. Expressive language can also contain symbols, signs, body language, and gestures. 

Expressive Language Disorders 

An expressive language disorder is characterized by an amalgamate of symptoms, depending on the child’s age and other medical features. Chiefly, speech therapists look for indicators of difficulty speaking or communicating needs. The learner might:

  • Leave words out
  • Misuse tenses
  • Not employ the correct signals 
  • Have low vocabulary 
  • Uses placeholder words 
  • Have difficulty forming coherent sentences 

For example, Jonathan is confused about how to communicate his needs. Jonathan understands that his father has asked him to bring the book from the other room. However, when he goes to the other room, there is more than one book. Instead of asking his father to clarify, Jonathan might bring all the books from the other room or leave the task altogether.

What To Know About Language Development Resources 

As you seek support for your child’s developing language, keep in mind that it is possible to have a mixed expressive-receptive language delay. Signs will be present for both disorders. Regardless of which condition, or with the presence of both, the main priority is finding ways to increase communication opportunities for your child as they do develop.

Aside from increasing opportunities for development by talking your way through the day with your child, your care team will likely build an individualized treatment plan. Treatment plans will vary depending on the diagnosed delay and medical history specifics. Other information that helps to create a treatment plan includes:

  • Presence and prognosis of other coexisting disorders 
  • Presence and prognosis of swallowing disorders specifically 
  • Tolerance for medications 
  • Tolerance for procedures and therapies 
  • Parental preference and consent 

Schedule an appointment with HEAR Center

Call or text: (626) 734-6555

Email us at:

Chat us:

Learn more about Speech and Language Pathology: