Expressive vs. Receptive Language

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Expressive vs. Receptive Language

If a person has trouble understanding others or sharing thoughts, ideas and feelings, the person may have a language disorder. A language disorder can be a receptive or expressive language disorder. To determine if your child has receptive or expressive language difficulties, it is important to understand the difference between receptive language and expressive language.

Receptive language is the “input” of language, the ability to understand and comprehend spoken language that you hear or read. For example, a child’s ability to listen and follow directions (e.g. “Put on your coat”) relies on the child’s receptive language skills. In typical development, children are able to understand language before they are able to produce it. Children who are unable to comprehend language may have receptive language difficulties or a receptive language disorder.

Children who have difficulty understanding language may struggle with the following:

•Following direction

•Understanding what gestures mean

•Answering questions

•Identifying objects and pictures

•Reading comprehension

•Understanding a story

Expressive language is the “output” of language, the ability to express your wants and needs through verbal or nonverbal communication. It is the ability to put thoughts into words and sentences in a way that makes sense and is grammatically correct. Children that have difficulty communicating their wants and needs may have expressive language difficulties or an expressive language disorder. For example, children may have expressive language difficulties if they are unable to tell you when they need to use the bathroom or when they are hungry.

•Children who have difficulty producing language may struggle with the following:

•Asking questions

•Naming objects

•Using gestures

•Using facial expressions

•Making comments


•Syntax (grammar rules)

•Semantics (word/sentence meaning)

•Morphology (forms of words)


If you have questions about your child’s language development we’d be happy to help. Schedule a free phone consultation or complete our innovative therapist match survey via the link below.