One day your teenager will debate you on the logic of your rules, using words, facial expressions and gestures to communicate his thoughts, feelings and ideas. That’s expressive language in action—skills he began using the moment he was born and cried to let you know he needed you.
Expressive language is one of three branches of language, along with receptive language (what we hear and understand) and pragmatic, or social, language (how we relate to others, including understanding and using nonverbal cues).
What are Expressive Language Skills?
Expressive language skills allow us to:
• Communicate Feelings, Needs, Ideas & Intentions
• Label and Describe Objects, Actions, Events & Concepts
• Form Sentences & Use Correct Grammar
• Retell Events
• Answer Questions
• Develop & Tell A Story
Children who have trouble with expressive language may not be able to speak clearly or form sentences with an age-appropriate number of words. They may get frustrated easily because they can’t communicate their feelings, needs or ideas, or because they have a hard time retelling events. It may be difficult for them to play with peers. When they start school, tasks like answering questions, talking about what they’ve learned, and creating and writing stories can be challenging.
Ways to Support Your Baby’s Expressive Language Development
Nurture His Receptive Language
Research shows that the more words a child hears during the first years of his life, the better his vocabulary and other language skills will be at age 3. Here are some great tips for promoting his receptive language skills.
When your little one sees a car and says “ca,” you can say “yes, that’s a car,” stressing the “r” at the end. When he begins to form sentences, they will be short and grammatically incorrect. He may say, “Me want cup,” and you can respond by modeling: “I want my cup, too!”
Play Imitation Games
Imitating your baby’s speech sounds is a great way to motivate him to practice expressive language. Chances are if he babbles “ba!” and you say “ba!” back, he’ll keep going. When he starts to say words, you can use imitation to model correct pronunciation. He will love imitating the lyrics and hand motions of songs like The Itsy Bitsy Spider, which also support his executive functioning skills.
Ask Questions and Give Prompts
Touch your nose and say, “What’s this?” Or ask your little one what sounds different animals make. If you know he can say a word, prompt him by making the first sound. For example, if he’s gesturing towards his cup, you can point at it and say, “Cuuu.”
Choices like “Do you want an apple or a banana?” at mealtime, or “Is this a cat or a dog?” during playtime build vocabulary and encourage labeling.
Create Fill-In-The-Blank Games
When your baby is familiar with a song, leave out a word here and there so he can jump in and fill in the blank.
Give Him Opportunities
Even when he’s just five months old and reaching for a toy beyond his fingers, you can give him an opportunity to communicate by not jumping in immediately to help. Giving him a chance to vocalize that he wants the toy before you push it within his reach reinforces that he can use expressive language to get his needs met.
If you browse the speech section of our BabySparks program, you will find dozens of instructional videos showing you fun ways to use these strategies with your baby.