What is Language?

Receptive language (comprehension)

Language is understanding what others say.


  • Understanding words and pointing to show understanding
  • Understanding actions (e.g. sit down, come here or get the.. )
  • Following directions
  • Understanding questions (e.g. what, where, who and why questions)
  • Understanding concepts (e.g. up/down, big/little, fast/slow, first/last)
  • Understanding colours, number concepts and letter concepts
  • Listening to stories and comprehending what happens, making inferences, associations and predictions
  • Understanding language requiring reasoning and problem solving (e.g. what would happen if? why did it happen?)
  • Understanding the different meaning of words in jokes, humour, sarcasm and idioms

Expressive language (expression)

Language is expressing yourself confidently using a diverse vocabulary of words and grammatically correct sentences.


  • Learning to talk using single words then later early word combinations
  • Expressing yourself by putting words together in the right order with the right small words and word endings (grammar)
  • Saying longer and more complex sentences with joining words such as ‘and’, ‘then’, ‘but’ ‘because’ and ‘so’
  • Saying a large vocabulary of words
  • Quickly, accurately and fluently finding the words to express yourself
  • Talking about the meaning of words, what groups they belong to and how they are the same and different
  • Asking questions
  • Telling logical, detailed stories with all the important elements

Pragmatics (social language)

Language is interacting socially with others in an appropriate manner through words and body language.


  • Using words and sentences for a range of social purposes (e.g. greeting, farewelling, requesting, commenting, protesting and answering)
  • Being social, playing and conversing with adults and peers
  • Following the rules of conversation (e.g. how to take turns, how to interrupt, how to start conversing, how to change topics)
  • Interpreting and using appropriate eye contact, tone of voice, body language and facial expressions
  • Understanding that other people have different perspectives
  • The desire to share communication moments with others to build relationships

Language is the words, word order, and word usage for social communication, and speech is simply the pronunciation of the sounds in words. It is important not to confuse language skills with speech skills.

Could my child have a language problem?

LanguageLanguage development follows an expected sequence of milestones, each building upon the other, to lead towards sophisticated expression. Many oral language skills lay the foundations for later academic and social learning at school. A speech pathologist needs to determine whether the language skills a child has are appropriate for their age.

There are many different patterns of language disorders which require differential diagnosis by a speech pathologist. These patterns exist as children may only have one area of language affected, a number of areas affected, or a unique pattern of language strengths and weaknesses. It is very important to understand the unique nature of each child’s language disorder in order to provide the most appropriate intervention.

Contact us for more information on how we can help language problems.