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Oral Language Development

Oral language development refers to the process through which children acquire or learn language. This includes 'talking' (expressive language) and 'listening' (receptive language). Typically, children learn by being surrounded by others speaking and communicating with them.


Parents often  wonder if their child’s language skills are developing normally. While individual children develop their language skills at different rates, there is a general pattern to children’s language development.

Language Development in Children

Expressive Language (expression)

Expressive Language refers to a child's ability to express themselves and convey meaning to others. This can be through the use of gesture, words, sentences and/or writing.  Depending on the child's age, expressive language skills can include:

  • Using single words spontaneously

  • Making requests for objects and actions

  • Describing objects, actions and events

  • Putting words together to form sentences

  • Using correct grammar (e.g. ” I had a drink” not “me drinked “, etc),

  • Answering and asking questions appropriately

  • Giving clear instructions

  • Saying long, complex sentences (i.e. words such as 'because', 'so', 'but', 'although' etc.)

  • Telling and stories that include all the important details in a logical order


Expressive language difficulties may be due to problems with:

  • the formulation of their speech (ability to produce sounds)

  • knowledge of the sounds used in speech (phonology)

  • knowledge of words (vocabulary)

  • knowledge of sentence structure (grammar)

  • knowledge of how language is used in stories (narratives)

  • knowledge of how to use language socially (pragmatics)

Receptive language (comprehension)

Receptive language refers to a child's ability to understand or comprehend the sounds, words and language used by others, including gestures, spoken words and/or written words.  Depending on the child's age, receptive language skills can include:

  • Gaining information and meaning from visual information within the environment (e.g. mum is holding her keys means we are going in the car etc.), sounds (e.g. a siren means a fire engine is coming), and words (e.g. the word 'ball' means a round, bouncy thing we play with etc.)

  • Understanding grammar (e.g. plurals dogs/dogs, past tense play/played etc.)

  • Understanding how words are related or associated with each other (e.g. opposites, synonyms, part/whole etc.)

  • Understanding questions and/or requests

  • Following instructions of increasing length and complexity

  • Understanding concepts (e.g. big/little, in/on, before/after etc.)

  • Understanding inhibitory words (e.g. 'no', 'stop', 'wait')

  • Understanding indirect requests and sarcastic comments

  • Following stories as a whole, drawing conclusions, and making predictions

  • Understanding that the meaning of a word can change depending on the context


Receptive language difficulties may be due to a problem with:

  • knowledge of the underlying sound system (phonology)

  • knowledge of words (vocabulary)

  • knowledge of sentence structures (grammar)

  • knowledge of how language is used in stories (narratives)


Pragmatics/Social Language


  • Using and understanding gesture

  • Following the rules of conversation (e.g. taking turns, staying on topic, indicating he/she does not understand)

  • Interpreting and using appropriate tone of voice, body language, facial expression and gesture

  • Understanding that other people have different points of view

  • Using appropriate language to show an interest in others


Assessing your child's language skills

At Brain & Language Connections, we provide comprehensive assessments of your child's language skills to help determine whether they demonstrate age appropriate developmental skills. In addition to their language skills, there may be other contributing factors that also need to be considered including:


  • HEARING: which is required to be able to hear all the sounds and information contained in speech and language. Your child may be referred to an Audiologist for a hearing test if needed.


  • ATTENTION & LISTENING: which is required to be able to focus their attention long enough and listen consistently to speech and language, so that they can process the information and plan and produce responses


  • MEMORY: which is required to retain and learn new vocabulary, follow instructions, comprehend stories etc.

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