A Guide to Expressive Language Disorder

Expressive language is a child’s way to communicate their thoughts and feelings through the use of words, sentences, and phrases. It is a significant indicator of child development. Parents and teachers sometimes use expressive language as the basis to determine whether a child needs accommodations and special assistance.

Elements of Expressive Language

Expressive language has three elements: semantics, syntax, and morphology. Semantics has to do with the correct word use. Syntax has to do with the correct use of grammar and using sentences to communicate. Morphology has to do with the correct use of grammatical items (i.e., -ing, -ed).

Developmental Milestones

·          12 to 15 months old – at this stage, children babble, use facial expressions and sounds to communicate. By the end of this stage, a child should be able to utter his or her first words. Do not worry if there is a slight delay with saying the first word at this stage/

·          18 to 24 months old – children at this stage are said to have about 100 vocabulary words in their arsenal. They are usually able to construct 2 to 3-word sentences when communicating.

·          24 to 30 months old – children can use morphemes (tenses, -ing). In conversations, they longer sentences.

·          3 years old – at this stage, children should be able to form 4-word sentences. When talking, they can communicate creative ideas.

·          4 to 5 years old – children can express themselves with the correct use of tenses. In most cases, children may be able to talk about how their day went and how they felt about certain situations.

·          5 to 7 years old – children will be able to tell simple stories with the correct sequence of events and possibly communicate their thoughts and opinions.

How to Develop Expressive Language: The Building Blocks

1.      Pre-language skills – before children learn to speak, they communicate through gestures and facial expressions. Adults and caregivers should work towards establishing a connection or relationship with kids through these modes of communication.

2.      Play skills – play skills have to do with allowing the child to play by themselves or with peers. These play sessions should be self-motivated.

3.      Concentration – to be able to achieve milestones, children should be able to sustain enough energy and focus on mastering the skills. Adults should help the child focus and block off distractions until their tasks are complete.

4.      Language Comprehension – check for the child’s ability to understand any communication that is directed towards him or her. While it is important to help children express themselves through language, they should be able to process and comprehend the messages that people tell them.

5.      Pragmatics and motivation – pragmatics teach children to participate in or initiate conversations. Ideally, your child’s interactions with other people are self-motivated.

Activities to Try

·          Constant communication – as a parent, caregiver, or teacher, the best way to build and establish expressive communication skills is to constantly talk to the child. When talking to the child, make sure to use correct and appropriate language and grammar. Correct them by clarifying what they mean.

·          Imitation – this is particularly important for parents who are talking to their toddlers. If they say “milk” to express hunger, you can correct them by saying, “Milk, please.”

·          Books – read stories to your child. Explain the story, describe the characters, and ask your child questions to help them comprehend the story. To help them improve their speaking skills, you can ask them to read to you. 

·          Puzzles – this is one of the best ways to help children build concentration skills because the goal of building a puzzle is simple: to complete a bigger picture.

Final Thoughts Expressive language in child development has to do with being able to communicate effectively. Children will pick up on the language that is used by the people around them. As adults (whether parents or teachers), we should be aware of the developmental milestones and guide them so that they can achieve them