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What is Language?

Chalkboard with Different Languages

Language is one of the fundamental building blocks of communication and is comprised of two key areas: receptive language and expressive language. Receptive language is the ability to comprehend or understand what is being said (verbal or non-verbal) or read. Expressive language is the ability to use language to communicate, such as speaking or writing. Developing both receptive and expressive language skills is essential for successful communication.  For individuals that have deficits in receptive and/or expressive language, a speech language pathologist can help. Early Intervention is key in treating a language disorder; as language is built on a hierarchy of skills that continues to build off the previous skills. A child must develop solid foundational language skills to become an effective communicator. 

Receptive Language


refers to an individuals ability to understand and interpret language. It is an important part of language development and includes understanding what is being said (verbal or non-verbal) or read. 

A receptive language disorder occurs when an individual has difficulty understanding language. Deficits in receptive language can affect an individual's ability to:

  • Follow directions

  • Understand non-verbal language (what gestures/facial expressions mean)

  • Answer questions

  • Identify objects and pictures

  • Reading comprehension

  • Understand a story

Expressive Language


is the ability to express oneself through words and sentences, either orally or in writing. It involves the use of language to convey one's thoughts, feelings, wants and/or needs.

 An expressive language disorder can affect a person's ability to communicate effectively (orally or in writing) and can lead to social and academic difficulties.Individuals may find if challenging to follow and use proper syntax (grammar rules), semantics (word/sentence meaning), and morphology (forms of words). Deficits in expressive language can affect an individual's ability to:

  • Ask questions

  • Name objects

  • Use gestures

  • Use facial expressions

  • Comment or request

  • Vocabulary


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