When people think about communication they generally think about spoken language. As we can see from the building blocks this is one of the last areas to develop when children are learning to communicate. Expressive language is a broad term that covers all form how a person communicates their wants and needs, verbal and nonverbal communication skills and how an individual uses language. Expressive language skills include: facial expressions, gestures, intentionality, vocabulary, semantics (word/sentence meaning), morphology, and syntax (grammar rules).

Expressive language is important because it enables children to be able to express their wants and needs, thoughts and ideas, argue a point of view, develop their use of language in writing and engage in successful interactions with others.

Fishing game with pictures underneath to develop sentence construction.

What is important before Expressive Language can develop?

  • Receptive language (understanding): Comprehension of language.
  • Attention and concentration: Sustained effort, doing activities without distraction and being able to hold that effort long enough to get the task done.
  • Pre-language skills: The ways in which we communicate without using words and include things such as gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention and eye contact.
  • Play skills: Voluntary engagement in self motivated activities that are normally associated with pleasure and enjoyment where the activities may be, but are not necessarily, goal oriented.
  • Motivation and desire to communicate with others.

What things should I look out for to indicate if my child has difficulties with Expressive language?

The following are signs of difficulties with expressive language skills, the child may:

  • Have difficulty naming items and objects.
  • Not link together words or uses sentences that are shorter than others of the same age.
  • Use sentences that sound immature for their age.
  • Use ‘jargon’ (made up words) in speech.
  • Produce sentences that are ‘muddled’ (i.e. words in wrong order, lots of stops and starts, a lack of flow).
  • Not be understood by unfamiliar people.
  • Have difficulty finding the right words to use in conversation or when describing or explaining something.
  • Have trouble retelling a story.
  • Have difficulty writing paragraphs and stories.

How can we help a child improve their expressive language skills?

There are many ways we can support a child in developing their expressive language:

  • Play: ·For the young child engage in play with the child on a regular basis, model how to play with toys, follow the child’s lead and talk about what they are doing with the toys..
  • Talk to the child often throughout the day about what you are doing, where you are going, what you are going to do, what you have just done.
  • Turn off background noise in the home (e.g. television, radio, music).
  • Face-to-face: Get face to face with the child when talking so that the child can watch your mouth to imitate how to produce words.
  • Expand the language the child is using by repeating what they are saying and adding one or two more words to their utterance (·e.g. child: “Dog”;adult: “A big dog”).
  • Books: Look at books together that the child is interested in and talk about the pictures and/or the story.
  • Model ·back to the child utterances that they have said incorrectly in the correct way (e.g. child: “Me want that one”; adult: “I want the blue ball please”).

Games that you can play with your child:

  • Name items together when looking at a book, in the car, looking outside, in play, while they are playing, whilst shopping.
  • Choice-making: Offer the child choices so that they are encouraged to use words to make a request rather than relying on gesture.
  • Day-to-day activities: Engage in lots of “day-to-day” activities (e.g. going shopping, to the park, to the zoo, to the museum) then talk about/draw/act out what you did and saw.
  • Play something together that the child really enjoys and throughout the game model new words and phrases.
  • Look at books together and talk about what you see.
  • Ask questions about what is happening in a story and why it is occurring.
  • Sing songs together.
  • Use pictures/drawings/photos to make a book or sequence of events and make up a story about the pictures.
  • Read stories to help model correct use of language.
  • Write letters to friends.
  • Pictures: Talk together about a picture and then write down what you said.


People often ask how can they support their child but encouraging them to communicate without pushing them too much or allowing them to become lazy?


There are many ways you can do this, through the above games and also through ensuring that you don’t always anticipate their needs and allow them to ask for things. With young children you can have their favourite toys visible but out of reach so they have to ask for them. Don’t always anticipate their needs with snacks and drinks, again have them visible but out of reach. This will also motivate the child in asking for things rather than just having their needs met.