Expressive language is what we do when we share our ideas through speaking. As we get older, we use more complex sentences and vocabulary especially when writing. Children with good expressive language skills use a wide variety of vocabulary, simple and complex sentences, and are able to tell stories sequentially with detail and ease.

The developmental stages for Expressive Language Acquisition are as follows:

Birth: Newborn babies make sounds that let others know they are experiencing pleasure or pain.

0-3 Months: Babies smile at people when they come into view. They repeat the same sound a lot. Their Cries "differentiate". For example, one cry says "I'm hungry" and another says "I have a pain".

4-6 Months: Babies make gurgling sounds or use "vocal play" when engaged in play or alone happily occupying themselves. Babbling starts, and babies will sometimes sound as though they are "talking". This "speech-like" babbling includes many sounds including the bilabial (two lip) sounds "p", "b", "w" and "m".

7-12 Months: The sound of the babbling changes. This is because babbling now includes more consonants, as well as long and short vowels. Babies use speech or other sounds (i.e., other than crying) in order to get and hold a parent’s attention. The baby’s first words begin to appear (probably not spoken very clearly): "MaMa", "Doggie", "Night Night", "Bye Bye", "No".

1-2 Years: Children are accumulating more words as each month passes. They even ask 2-word questions like "Where ball?" "What's that?" "More chippies?" "What that?", and combine two words in other ways to make the Stage 1 Sentence Types ("Birdie go", "No doggie", "More push"). Words are becoming clearer as more initial consonants are used.

2-3 Years: Vocabulary growth is rapid during this stage. Children seem to have a word for almost everything. Utterances are usually one, two, or three words long and family members can usually understand them.

3-4 Years: Sentences become longer as children combine four or more words. They talk about things that have happened away from home, and are interested in talking about pre-school, friends, outings, and interesting experiences. Speech is usually fluent and clear.

4-5 Years: Children speaks clearly and fluently in an easy-to-listen-to voice. They can construct long and detailed sentences ("We went to the zoo but we had to come home early because Sally wasn't feeling well"; "I want to have a horse of my own like Evan, and Daddy says when he wins the lottery he'll buy me one."). They can tell a long, involved imaginative story sticking to the topic, and using "adult-like" grammar. Most sounds are pronounced correctly, though they may be lisping and have difficulty with "r", "v" and "th".

Bowen, C. (1998). Ages and Stages Summary: Language Development 0-5 years. Retrieved from on [10-16-2016].

Characteristics of an expressive language disorder may include word-finding difficulties, limited vocabulary, overuse of filler words like “uh,” “thing” or “stuff,” and difficulty “coming to the point” of what they are trying to say. Children with language disorders are frequently found to have word retrieval difficulties, which makes them slower to rapidly name objects and at risk for reading difficulties. When children are having difficulty retrieving a word, their expressive language is inhibited, and they often will have the sense that it is “on the tip of their tongue.” Further, they will use an indirect manner of speaking (circumlocution) to describe an object or event when the name cannot be recalled (e.g., saying “That thing you pound with” instead of “hammer”).

The umbrella term for a language disorder is Specific Language Impairment (SLI). For more information see:


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