Your child is born with a natural ability to develop language skills. These skills are developed and supported through their interaction with their world and the people in it.
Language development can be separated broadly into receptive language (understanding) and expressive language (talking) but there are many overlaps within these skills. Children will generally develop their understanding before their expression and you may notice periods of rapid growth and change.
Receptive Language (understanding) refers to your child’s ability to understand concepts (e.g. big, smooth), follow directions (e.g. put the red pencil in the case behind my desk), understand questions (e.g. why is the boy crying?), learn word meanings (e.g. a cow is an animal that gives us milk) and relationships between words (e.g. a cow and a horse are both animals). Your child’s understanding is impacted by your child’s ability to listen and attend.
If your child has difficulty with understanding you may notice they do not follow directions well or have difficulty responding to questions. You may find yourself routinely repeating and simplifying instructions. Children with difficulties with understanding will often rely on routine, repetition and other cues (like gesture) to support their understanding. It may appear that they are being naughty, acting silly or not paying attention when they are actually not understanding.
Expressive language refers to your child’s ability to use a vocabulary containing a variety of word types (e.g. names, actions, positions, describing words), combine words into sentences with appropriate grammar (e.g. the boy is running), combine sentences into stories and hold conversations with multiple turns.
If your child has difficulty with expression you may notice that they have limited words or overuse non-specific forms like “this”, “that” and “there”, use short sentences for their age, words may be in the wrong order or grammar might be incorrect or missing. Your child may talk less than other children their age or they may talk a lot but they don’t have a clear message and are hard to understand. Children will often get frustrated if they are unable to express themselves clearly.
You can refer to the following Language Development chart for more information on what skills to expect at what age.
To help support your child’s language development at home:
Enjoy spending time talking with your child while reading books and engaging in pretend play.
If your child has difficulties with understanding try to focus on teaching not testing. Support your child’s understanding by getting their attention and repeating instructions, break them down into chunks and take the time to demonstrate new concepts with actions, gesture and repetition.
If your child has difficulties with expression, don’t demand they say words or sentences after you. Interpret for them and repeat back their message using specific words and grammar. Keep it simple at a level expected for their age. You can do this as part of your natural conversation. Your child then hears examples of the words and sentences they could use. They may need to hear something new many times before they try it themselves.
If you are concerned about your child’s language development we suggest that you talk to a Speech Pathologist. A speech pathologist will be able to provide advice around your child’s language development and the timing of assessment and therapy if required. You can contact a Speech Pathologist through Australian Therapy Services for a free consultation.