Receptive and Expressive Communication Explained

When you think about communication skills, you probably think about words and pronunciation, but communication begins even before a baby starts babbling. Communication encompasses what we understand and body language as well as what we say.

There are two kinds of communication - receptive and expressive - and it's important for children to develop both. Receptive communication has to do with how one processes and understands what's going on in her environment. Expressive communication is how a person transmits what she is thinking to someone else.

Receptive communication skills include understanding sounds and words as well as movements and symbols. Children usually gain these skills more quickly than expressive communication abilities. For a newborn this might look like the baby quieting down when he is spoken to. A one year old might be able to understand simple instructions, while a two year old can identify common objects and pictures when named. Later on come the abilities to understand a few prepositions (in, on, under), identify basic colors, and read books. Some building blocks needed for receptive language include pre-language skills (e.g. reading facial expressions) and social skills, so don't forget about working on those.

On the other hand, expressive communication involves actions we take to share a thought/idea/feeling with someone else. This begins with a newborn expressing herself by cooing when content or smiling when she sees you. As the precursor to speaking, gestures show that a child understands symbolism - an action (e.g. waving) has meaning ("we're leaving, bye"). Starting at 9 or 10 months a baby will start to use gestures and then gain about two new gestures a month. A child might go from connecting a gesture with a first word at 12 months, to using up to 300 words by 24 months. By 3 years old, children create 3-6 word sentences and use some words in plural and past tense. A 5 year old can use correct grammar and understand basic time concepts (e.g. morning, afternoon).

There are many things you can do to promote the receptive piece of communication at home - for example, you could establish consistent routines throughout the day so that your child better understands the language appropriate for each situation. And you can promote expressive language development by interpreting what you think your toddler might mean when he gestures to something - for example, if he points to a banana you could say "You want a banana" before giving it to him.

Typical language development (click here for Spanish) might be slower than you might expect, but if your child does appear to be behind, and you have already tried some things at home to promote their development, you can have your child evaluated by Early Intervention (for children 0-3) or your local school district (for children 3 and older). They can offer you individual services to support your child's development in whatever way is needed.

For communication activities specific to your child's age feel free to reach out to our parent support specialists here at Help Me Grow Utah at 801-691-5322.

Additional resources to promote communication skills:

Talking is Teaching - Tips for Infants and Toddlers

12 Tips for Talking with Toddlers

Articulation (Pronunciation and Talking)

How to Make Reading Fun: 25 Ideas Kids Will Love

Benefits of Allowing Your Child to Fail
Brush, Book, Bed - A New American Academy Pediatri...

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Wednesday, 07 December 2022

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