Understanding Language

Understanding Language Skills


Language consists of the words we choose to use to share ideas, feelings and advocate for what we want or need.  Language often involves words and symbols and can be spoken, signed and/or written in order to communicate with each other.

Receptive Language 

Receptive language is the way we understand language.  This may include our understanding of basic concepts, following directions, identifying vocabulary and objects, comprehending spoken conversations or text from stories and responding to questions.  

Expressive Language  

Expressive language is the language that we produce using nonverbal and spoken language.  It includes the use of sounds, words, phrases, sentences, gestures and writing to produce meaningful messages to others.  Skills may include labeling objects, actions and people, describing events, making comments/requests, and formulating/answering questions.  It also includes writing thoughts, ideas and stories.  Some people may use forms of Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) such as American Sign Language (ASL), pictures, high- and low-tech communication devices. 

Pragmatic Language 

Pragmatic language is the understanding of social situations and the use of appropriate social language in our daily interactions with others.  It also includes the use and understanding of body language (e.g., gesture, eye contact and facial expressions), as well as taking turns in conversation.  

Early Language Vocabulary Targets

You can target functional vocabulary words daily!

  • Core Words (e.g., more, open, help, done, go, stop, wait, want, yes and no)
  • Foods, drinks, body parts, clothes, household items, toys
  • Items in nature
  • Family members and pet’s names 
  • Prepositions and ‘little words’ (e.g., on, off, in, out, up, down, out, under)
  • Verbs (e.g., walk, eat, kick, sleep)

Speech Tip:  Letters, numbers, colors and shapes are considered ‘academic vocab.’  In Early Intervention, we want your child to learn functional communication first and foremost.  Functional communication is their ability to effectively express their thoughts, ideas, wants and needs using meaningful words.  Although academic vocabulary is important, they will be acquired naturally between the ages of 3 and 4 according to the U.S. Department of Education.  The most important skill to teach your toddler right now is functional communication.

Prelinguistic Speech Foundation Skills 

Before a child is ready for spoken language, there are foundation skills that first must be targeted.  Why?  Children imitate what we DO before they imitate what we say.   

  • Responding 
    Responding to facial expressions by smiling at you when you smile at them, responding to noises and laughing and squealing to show joy in your actions.
  • Anticipation/Cause & Effect 
    For example, “Ready…set…”(child should look up in anticipation of the next word such as “GO!” or an action such as a ball rolling toward them
  • Nonverbal imitation 
    Shake a rattle, blow a kiss, clap, jump, wave
  • Babbling/ Symbolic Sound imitation 
    Animal/environmental sounds such as “baa baa”
  • Joint attention 
    A shift of eye gaze from an object/event to a person such as responding to one’s name by turning and looking at a speaker, following a point, showing, giving items to another person to share, and using words such as “look!” or “watch me!
  • Sensory processing and self-regulation
    Children may be over-responsive, under-responsive or seek sensory input when they are feeling dysregulated.  When a child is dysregulated, it can be especially difficult to engage in interactions and be in a ready-state for learning.  
  • Purposeful Play
    Plays with preferred toys in a meaningful and intentional way by frequently using both hands during play, remaining close to an adult or sibling during play, and following how the child plays naturally.  You can join their play by adding new ideas and actions to the child’s deep interests and passions.
  • Initiation
    Initiating an interaction with others to get their needs met, gain attention or to play.

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