Receptive Language is what children do with information when listening. It is how they process and understand what they hear. It’s how they understanding word meanings, sentences, and higher level language forms (e.g., multiple meanings, jokes, inferences, and abstractions). Normal hearing is important for language growth, which is why pediatricians screen hearing as part of the well-child visit.

The developmental stages for Receptive Language Acquisition are as follows:

Birth: Language learning starts at birth. Babies are aware of sounds in the environment. They listen to the speech and startle or cry if there is an unexpected noise. Loud noises wake them, and they become "still" in response to new sounds.

0-3 Months: Babies learn to turn and smile when they hear voices. They often respond to comforting tones whether the voice is familiar or not.

4-6 Months: Babies respond to the word "no". They are responsive to changes in tone of voice and to sounds other than speech. They can be fascinated by toys and other objects that make sounds and enjoy music and rhythm.

7-9 Months: Babies now listen when spoken to, turn and look at faces when called by name, and discover the fun of games like: "peek-a-boo” and "pat-a-cake." They recognize names of familiar objects and people ("Daddy", "car", "eyes", "phone", "key") and begin to respond to requests ("Give it to Daddy") and questions ("More juice?").

1-2 Years: Children point to pictures in a book when you name them, and they can point to a few body parts when asked (nose, eyes, tummy). They also follow simple commands ("Push the bus!", "Don't touch; it's hot!") and understand simple questions ("Where's the bunny?", "Who likes Miffy?", "What's in your purse?"). Children at this age like listening to simple stories and enjoy it when you sing songs or say rhymes. This is a stage in which children want the same story, rhyme, or game repeated many times.

2-3 Years: Children now understand two stage commands ("Get your socks and put them in the basket") and understand contrasting concepts or meanings like hot / cold, stop / go, in / on and nice / yucky. They notice sounds like the telephone or doorbell ringing and may point or become excited, get you to answer, or attempt to answer themselves.

3-4 Years: Three to Four year olds understand simple "Who?", "What?" and "Where?" questions and can hear you when you call from another room.

4-5 Years: Children at this age enjoy stories and can answer simple questions about them. They hear and understand nearly everything that is said (within reason) at home or school.

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

Children with a receptive language disorder may appear to understand because they are able to pick out key words in sentences and follow non-verbal clues (gestures or eye gaze of the speaker). Sometimes a child’s spoken language gives the impression they are functioning at age level, but their understanding may be compromised. Other children with receptive language challenges become lost in the classroom setting and may be misdiagnosed as having an attention deficit. The umbrella term for a language disorder is Spoken Language Disorder (SLD). For more information see:


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