receptive language delay

A Guide to Receptive Language Delay

Receptive language is the ability to understand verbal (spoken) and nonverbal (written, gestural) language. Receptive language includes skills such as following directions, understanding gestures, identifying vocabulary and basic concepts, and answering questions. Are you wondering if your child’s receptive language skills are developmentally appropriate? Read on for a guide to receptive language delays.

Refer to this guide of common receptive language developmental milestones:


Age Milestones
0-3 months Turns to a familiar voice, smiles in response to voice
4-6 months Searches for sound sources, responds to ‘no’, shows interest in music and toys
7-12 months Responds to name, begins to respond to requests, understands 3-50 words
1-2 years Follows simple commands, points to pictures in books when named, points to a few body parts
2-3 years Follows 2-step commands, understands in/on/under/stop/go
3-4 years Understands simple ‘what’, ‘who’, ‘where’ questions
4-5 years Answers simple questions about stories


 There are multiple causes for difficulties with receptive language. Some of them include:

  •              Additional developmental disorders or delays
  •              Hearing loss
  •              Lack of exposure to language
  •              Intellectual disabilities
  •              Unknown origin

Here are some ideas to foster receptive language development at home:receptive language delay

  1. Label Objects: Name and point to objects when reading books and during daily routines such as meals, baths, and bedtime. Modeling the words helps to increase a child’s vocabulary.
  2. Simplify your Language: Use simple words and short word combinations. Instead of saying, “Oh, look at the car go!” say “Car go!” Rather than asking “Do you want more apple juice?” say “more juice?” This limits the amount of information the child needs to process in order to understand the message.
  3. Provide Cues: Give the child visual and/or gestural cues when communicating with the child. A visual cue could be a real or pictured object. A gestural cue could be pointing, turning, or gazing towards an object. They aid in improving receptive language because they provide additional information that is processed differently than verbal language. They also help the child pair meaning with verbal words.
  4. Give Directions: Practice following directions by making them fun. Give directions such as “Go find daddy”, “jump up and down”, and “clap your hands”. Provide a model for the child if needed.
  5. Check for Understanding: Be sure the child understands the direction, question, or information by having them repeat what they heard. Provide the child a repetition and/or re-word parts of the message using fewer words and simple, familiar language.

Wondering about red flags for a receptive language delay? Click here to learn more.

Reference: Paul, Rhea. (2007). Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence. St Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.