Let’s Talk About: Expressive Language

expressive language

Last week we talked about receptive language. That post can be found here. This week we’ll learn more about expressive language. I typically describe this as the ability to use words, sounds, and gestures to communicate a message. It’s the “talking” that we do. It includes, but is not limited to the following skills:

  • asking and answering questions

  • grammar skills

  • vocabulary

  • story telling

  • sentence length

  • social skills

Red Flags for Expressive Language Difficulties

1. Difficulty Naming or Describing

Children with expressive language difficulties may have trouble naming common objects. They may use vague terms like “that” or “thing” in place of the actual word to label or describe.

2. Unable to Ask or Answer Questions

Questions are difficult when a child has trouble with expressive language. They may not ask any question, or the question may be difficult to understand. They may have trouble explaining the answer even though they know what it is.

3. Trouble Sequencing a Story

You may notice it’s hard for your child to tell you about their day. They may have trouble putting the events of the day in the right order. They may have trouble telling you what their favorite story is about.

4. Limited Grammar Skill

You may notice your child sounds younger than his actual age because of their grammar or shortened sentences. Age-appropriate grammar skills may not be used. Often children with will shorten their sentences when they have trouble with expressive language.

5. Social Skills

When a child has difficulty expressing themselves, they will often have trouble socially. They may not be able to keep up with their peers in conversation. They may resist social interactions if they are often frustrated.

How Help Improve Expressive Language

1. Comment More; Question Less

Talk more often to your child by commenting about what you see and are doing. Point out different things to improve their vocabulary. Talk about what your child is interested.  Avoid the temptation to ask multiple questions.  This can be frustrating for both you and your child.  Try the 80/20 rule by commenting 80% and asking questions only 20%.  When you do ask questions, it’s best questions to ask open-ended questions.  This gives the child an opportunity to use more than one word to answer.

2. Wait Time

Give your child more time to answer when you ask a question. I often will count to 5 or longer in my head to help me stop answering for him or asking again. For adult, silence can be hard! But it’s important to give that extra time to children struggling with expressive language.

3.  Model Age-Appropriate Grammar

When your child uses the wrong grammar, model the correct grammar back to him.

  • Child:  “No me turn.”
  • Parent: “No, It’s my turn.  Yes, it’s your turn.  Here you go.”

It’s helpful for your child to hear the correct way to say what he wants to say.  Avoid making your child repeat the correct grammar if this is frustrating.  Modeling is just as helpful and keeps the conversation going without the child getting frustrated.

4.  Expand the Sentence

Take what your child is able to say and add to it.  What’s important here it to add only one or two words extra to your child’s sentence.

  • Child: “I see a car.”
  • Parent: “Yes, I see the red car.”

You are giving him a model that is just a little longer than what he can typically say.  It increases the child vocabulary by adding words that describe details.  This is helpful for the child that often uses vague words like “that” or “thing.”

5.  Give Choices

A child with expressive language difficulties may resist asking for what they want or need.  This may lead to meltdowns and frustration.  When possible offer two choices to help your child.  He can point or use his words to get his choice.  You can use the objects as a visual, a picture, or words depending on your child’s skills.

  • Parent:  “Do you want juice or milk?”

Improve Expressive Language During Daily Routines

1.  Read

Reading will improve your child’s vocabulary. It offers an opportunity to talk about the story through comments and questions. A book works on sequencing, listening to longer sentences, and hearing appropriate grammar. You can never go wrong with a book!

2.  Pretend Play

Pretend play is a fun way to comment on what the child is doing and include describing words.  You can role play and practice social skills. You can model longer sentences and grammar skills.

3.  Family Meals

This daily routine gives you a chance to ask about their day.  Remember to comment more than asking questions.  Natural chances occur for requesting throughout meals.  There are many chances to give options during a meal.

4.  Looking at Pictures

Photo albums and pictures taken on your phone are a fantastic way to work on expressive language. You can model longer sentences. Teach new vocabulary words about what the child is looking at in the pictures. You also have an opportunity to model appropriate grammar skills.

5.  Family Outings

New experiences naturally lead to new vocabulary words.  Take pictures to help with sequencing the day when talking about it. If your child struggles when talking about his day, then you can use picture to help him.

Derby will be useful for expressive vocabulary. My hope is that children will come to bond with him and feel comfortable talking to him. I imagine it will be fun to give Derby directions to follow so that he can earn a treat! I hope to use Derby to teach new vocabulary words, especially if the child doesn’t have a pet in his home.

What’s your favorite activity to do when working on expressive language?

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24 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About: Expressive Language

  1. This is a really helpful list and an excellent resource for parents. These tips are very easy to use and implement, and can be a really effective means for helping their child expand their language skills. I’ll be saving this for far in my own future! 🙂

  2. To have children that communicate in every way this post gives insight and tips on how expand upon strengths rather than weaknesses. I admire your ability to work with these individuals and their families

  3. What a fantastic list – I appreciate the thought and effort you have put into it. Expressive language is not something I have thought about much before, so I feel as though I learnt something!

  4. As a person who was an Early Childhood Educator for 4 years, this is exactly the information that should be taught to us educators in school, and also be available to parents. Very well-written, thank you so much for sharing!

  5. Great information on what to watch for regarding your child’s speech and language development. I’m sure your article will help many parents.

  6. These is excellent information for us parents. I have a two year old daughter. So far, she seems to be ahead of the game with her language skills, and for that I am proud. However, I know I can always work with her to build her language more. She is probably a little too young right now for some of these tips, but I know I can level them down for her, and I can always save this post for the future when she is older.

  7. Self expression is key to success for anybody in any sphere of work. If we start early with kids and develop a habit of expressive language it will help them in the long run.

  8. Expressing yourself confidently is an excellent thing to teach your children. My daughters have always been very vocal and confident expressing themselves.

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