I AM going to review all the areas of expressive language and attempt to paint a picture of how it all works. Expressive language is WAY MORE than simply the words you say!
I am NOT going to review all of the developmental milestones here, and yes they are important but I don't want you to get hung up on certain skills. I want you to understand how all the skills relate to each other.
Okay, let's focus now!
Expressive language skills are made of up 3 main areas
All areas listed above of are equal importance and delays in any one area can cause a child many problems, so let’s review each one now.
Oh, vocabulary, how important you are! Vocabulary is the content and meaning of what we say.
Now, when I say, vocabulary development, I am not just talking about the ability to label pictures. My 2 year old can label 100 pictures but this doesn’t mean he FULLY understands each word. Can he can relate them together, describe attributes, categorize, etc? Not yet (and this normal for his age).
This distinction is important though. Some think that if a child can label all of pictures or use a lot words, that they have good vocabulary but it goes deeper than that.
Strong vocabulary skills include the ability to:
If your child isn't talking yet and is almost two, you can help boost their vocabulary WITHOUT tears. It is possible, I promise! There are a few subtle things you can add to the way you talk to your child that will make all the difference. Read more about it at Toddler Talk.
Word mechanics is a term that I just made up and this is a lesser known area of expressive language is equally as important.
The two components are:
Morphology refers to the structure of words and how a person adds different structures to word roots such as prefixes, suffixes affixes to change its meaning. All those fancy words really mean (examples)....
Morphology is extremely important as it greatly alters the meaning of a message.
A lot of SLPs including myself have at one point thought of phonology as a speech/articulation skills but I assure you, it isn’t!
Phonology refers to the rules or organization of sounds in a language. There are certain sound combinations that just aren’t possible in a certain language. For example, Spanish doesn’t have the consonant /b/ at the end of words (final consonant). In English, we combine n with g (running) and this combination does not exist in other languages such as Spanish.
Phonological processes are patterns of errors that children typically use to simplify language output as they learn to talk. For example, a child may use a process called “cluster reduction” when saying a word such as “sport” (i.e., “port” for “sport.”) Articulating two consonants is hard for a young child, so he/she just deletes one. This is normal until 4 years of age. After 4, it may be a sign of a phonological disorder and this child may need help organizing the sounds of their language.
If a child has trouble with word mechanics, the meaning expressive language is greatly affected (morphology) or it can lower their intelligibility (phonology).
Syntax or grammar refers to how we put words together to make sentences and this is a crucial skill!
Let’s say a child knows vocabulary, has excellent phonological and morphological skills, but doesn't have a grasp on syntax...this child is in trouble! People will have a difficult time understanding him or her.
Syntax abilities include the following structures (morphology) at the SENTENCE level!
For fellow therapists, when planning expressive language goals, I had to take a step back and really analyze if a child had a morphology deficit or syntax deficit or both when writing goals and this has been a game changer. More on that later.
Last but CERTAINLY not the least in narrative language. Storytelling is a complex language task that slowly develops over time
Being able to tell a story is crucial for communication skills such as:
The main components of a narrative include:
A child’s narrative language develops by listening to stories, telling stories, and sharing ideas. You can shape this important skill from a young age by following some ideas here.
Let’s do a quick example to illustrate what a delay in narrative language development may look like…
Let’s say we have a little boy who has excellent vocabulary, great word mechanics, and great sentence mechanics, but can’t tell a story. He either forgets to tell his listeners the important background information like the setting or the end of the story (resolution).
Let’s say a teacher asks, "what did you do this weekend? and our little boys says “the fish was huge.” Hmmm.....the teacher really has no idea what the boy did!
He does have:
What's missing in his narrative?
Depending on the age, he should have said...I went fishing with my parents. We went on a boat. I put my fishing pole in the water and waited and waited to catch a fish. Finally, I caught a huge fish! I was excited.
For more ideas on how to develop narrative language as well as other expressive language skills, checkout Preschool Talk. It has 50 pages of games you can try today in your home without making or buying a thing :)