Expressive Language

Expressive Language: What is it?

Speech and language pathologists may use the term “expressive language” when describing the needs of your child. To better understand expressive language it is important to understand its definition and use.  Expressive language is the output of language to communicate a want, need, thought, or idea.

Expressive language is a combination of one or more of the following features:Expressive Language

  1. What words mean: Language is symbolic by nature, therefore, each word represents an idea, item, verb, emotion, etc. Children first need to understand that when they say the word apple, they are representing the actual object of an apple.
  2. How to put words together: Understanding how to put words together is the next step to acquiring expressive language. In order to communicate more extensive or intricate ideas, children often need to combine words. For example, children learn that by saying “more milk” or “all done” they can relay more complex messages.
  3. How to make new words: Understanding that words can be changed to represent a new idea is another feature of expressive language. For example, children often struggle to properly use past tense of verbs. The word friend can be changed to friendly or unfriendly to represent new concepts.
  4. What word combinations are best for different situations: Children learn that in order to effectively communicate, they need to adjust their use of language depending on their surroundings. For example, children may say, “I want a cookie now!” while at home. However, at a birthday party with an unfamiliar adult children may say, “may I please have a cookie?”. This understanding of the social use of language is critical for children and often takes years to fully develop.

Understanding the use of language is extremely complex and can often be difficult for children. A speech and language pathologist can help assess if your child is struggling to properly learn or utilize the features of language.

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NSPT offers speech and language services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

expressive language delay

Expressive Language Delay: Milestones, Red Flags, and How to Help

As a parent, you may wonder, “Is my child talking enough?” or “Is my child’s language age-appropriate?” While it is common for parents and caregivers to compare their child’s performance to that of their siblings or peers, it is important to remember that there are many factors determining your child’s speech and language development. Each child is unique and development takes time! Below are some common expressive language developmental milestones along with red flags and how to help if your child is behind.

Expressive Language Milestones:expressive language delay

  • 6 months: reduplicated babbling (ex. bababa)
  • 12 months: begins to produce real words, demonstrates communicative intent
  • 18 months: produces approximately 50 words
  • 24 months: begins to produce two-word combinations, has an expressive vocabulary of approximately 300 words, asks questions
  • 36 months: produces 3-5 word sentences, talks about things that have happened
  • 48 months: has an expressive vocabulary of approximately 1500 words, tells stories
  • 60 months: has most adult language structures mastered, produces 5-7 word sentences, expresses 1500-2200 words

Are you concerned that your child’s expressive language is delayed? In addition to the milestones noted above, refer to the following red flags.

Expressive Language Red Flags:

  1. Limited vocabulary
  2. Frustration when communicating
  3. Difficulty asking questions
  4. Difficulty answering questions
  5. Disinterest in communicating

Why is my child’s language delayed?

A child’s language may be delayed for any number of reasons. Some of these include hearing loss, a history of ear infections, a family history of language difficulties, other developmental delays, lack of exposure to language, or an unknown cause.

Use these techniques to improve expressive language at home:


Recast occurs when an adult or clinician responds to a child’s utterance by using the correct form while still maintaining the meaning of the child’s utterance. There are two types of recast: expansion and extension. Read some examples below:

Expansion: An expansion adds grammatical information to the utterance. If the child produces “push car”, the adult may expand the utterance by saying “Yes, you are pushing the car!”

Extension: An extension adds additional information to the child’s utterance. “Push car” becomes “You are pushing the blue car fast!”


Self -talk includes narrating what you are doing, seeing, or hearing during play or interactions with the child. For example, when setting the table you may say, “I am putting a plate on the table. Here is a cup! Now it’s time for the spoon, fork, and knife.”

Parallel Talk

Parallel talk is similar to self-talk, however, instead of narrating your actions you are narrating the child’s actions. For example, when the child is playing with a doll, you may say, “You fed the baby. I think she is sleepy now. Oh, you gave her a blanket and put her to bed! Good night baby!” During parallel talk, you are not placing any demands on the child but rather are providing accurate and appropriate models of language.

Utilize these techniques to help encourage and expand expressive language at home. If you are concerned with your child’s expressive language skills, a speech-language pathologist can help!