What is Receptive Language?

Receptive Language

Receptive language put simply is the ability to understand language. It is sometimes referred to as understanding skills or language comprehension.  Receptive language can refer to the ability to understand what people say to you, what is written down as well as comprehending signed language. It is the understanding of language in all of it forms.

​It can refer to the ability to understand what people say to you, what is written down as well as comprehending signed language. It is the understanding of language in all of it forms.

​Receptive Language impacts on Many Developmental Areas

Language difficulties can be hidden behind “more obvious” problems.

receptive language

Receptive language & Reading Skills

For example children with reading difficulties and reading comprehension problems often have poor receptive language skills[4]. Language understanding skills may need to be addressed first or in conjunction with the reading problems.

Receptive Language & Behaviour

Children having problems socially can stem from receptive language problems. Toddlers with receptive language delays may present with behaviour issues such as biting and tantrums. The outburst may be linked back to the fact that they actually do not understand what is being said to them.

High school social difficulties can have underlying receptive language disorders or delays. Students that are not understanding the lessons they can be easily distracted. Their receptive language problems are seen as disruptive behaviours. Receptive language can reduce students understanding of jokes or subtle play on words. This can lead to social difficulties.

receptive language

Receptive Language and Talking Skills

Problems with receptive language have been linked to problems with expressive language skills. If a child does not understand what a word means they are unlikely to say the word. The less words they understand the less words they will say.

Receptive Language is made up of many “sub-skills”

Understanding skills grow as children grow. Receptive language is really made up of many sub-skills and are closely linked with cognitive skills and physical skills. If anyone on these “sub-skills” are weak or slow to develop, it can reduce a child’s overall language skills or rate of development in relation to understanding skills.

Physical skills linked to receptive language:

  • Physical aspects can include the ability to see and hear. Problems hearing what is being said can impact on language without alternative inputs being provided.

Receptive language sub-skills include the ability to

  • Understand words (vocabulary skills)
  • Understand concepts (from early concepts such as “big” & “next to” through to high school level of concepts e.g., evolution)
  • Follow instructions and directions
  • Understanding the difference between a question and a statement
  • Understanding the meaning carried by grammatical markers (e.g., “he” refers to male; “is” refers to a single item happening currently)

Other developmental areas to consider when looking at the language development in children include:

  • Attention and concentration skills e.g. ADHD. If you are not attending, understanding can be reduced
  • Memory skills e.g. you need to hold an instruction or information in your head in order to understanding it.
receptive language

How can you tell if a child has Receptive Language Difficulties?

Language skills follow a developmental order. Understanding of simple everyday words occur before less literal words (e.g., “balloon” before “inflate”). Understanding simple requests such as turning when your named is called comes before following complex instructions associated with a science experiment.

​Receptive language problems may be identifiable from as early as 6 months of age. However, for many children language difficulties do not come to light up until their language skills are put under the “pressure of primary and/or high school”.

What can I do if I feel my child might have some language difficulties.

Child speech pathologists can conduct “formal” language assessment to tease out the strengths and gaps. This allows you to provide more targeted support depending on which “Sub-skills” within and associated with receptive language are identified. Contact us for bookings and more information about our child.

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