Building language skills



One of the ways that Speech Pathologists can help children with their communication is by supporting them to build their language skills. Speech Pathologists are trained to provide evidence-based intervention to help children to:

  • understand others
  • express their needs and wants
  • follow instructions
  • ask questions
  • answer questions
  • learn new information
  • build relationships and friendships
  • learn how to read and write

Language skills can be broken down into receptive and expressive language skills.

What are receptive language skills?

Receptive language is the “input” of language which means the ability to understand and comprehend visual, audible (spoken) or written language. For example, a child’s ability to follow verbal instructions such as “put on your shoes” or understand questions like “are you thirsty?”

Children who have difficulty with receptive language may struggle with:

  • following instructions or directions
  • understanding gestures and facial expressions
  • answering questions
  • reading and comprehension
  • understanding a story or situation

What are expressive language skills?

Expressive language is the “output” of language. It is the ability to express wants and needs through verbal and non-verbal communication. For example when a child tells you that they need to go to the toilet, that they are uncomfortable or that they are hungry.

Children who have difficulty with expressive language may struggle with:

  • asking questions
  • naming objects
  • using facial expressions or gestures
  • commenting on what they are observing
  • vocabulary (range of words that they use and understand)
  • syntax (grammar rules)
  • semantics (the meaning of words and sentences)

What can I do?

While your child’s Speech Pathologist will play a vital role in supporting your child to improve their language skills, there are so many ways that parents, carers, teachers and educators can help too. Chat to your child’s Speech Pathologist about the best approaches to support your child. Here are some general ideas to get you started:

  • Use prop boxes to store themed items to encourage independent conversation and play. For example, create a "baby box” with a baby doll, small blanket, empty baby shampoo bottle, small nappy and so on. Other themes might be the supermarket, the ocean or the library.
  • Became a narrator of your own life (when your child is around!) Are you making dinner? Narrate this to your child as you go “We’re making spaghetti for dinner tonight, first we will chop the vegetables. We have zucchini, carrot and mushrooms…” And so on.
  • Let your child lead by observing literacy themes that develop during play. For example if your child is playing cafes, offer materials (perhaps from your prop box!) such as menus, order pads and pencils and take the opportunity to introduce new related vocabulary words to extend their language skills.
  • Start conversations at every opportunity you get. This can be super simple such as when you’re out at the park ask your child “what sounds can you hear?” and help them to identify and communicate sounds like birds, cars, chatter, a siren and so on. 

These ideas help to inject language into your everyday life and expose your child to new words and help to build their receptive and expressive language skills.

Find out more

Our team of Speech Pathologists are here to support your child to develop their language skills. We currently have limited availability in Brisbane’s northern suburbs and Wooloowin on Tuesdays and Thursdays*. Simply call 1800 XAVIER or email for further information.

*Note: Current at 9 July 2021