Speech Language Development

Understanding the theory of speech-language development is crucial for both parents and professionals. Parents need to understand the complete picture of language development to help their children work towards their goals. Speech-language pathologists must also grasp how language develops and how each area relates to one another in order to assess and treat clients.

Speech and language skills allow us to express ourselves, form relationships, make our wants and needs known, read, write, learn in school, and much more.

We communicate in one form or another all day long!

To be honest, even as a speech-language pathologist, it has taken me years to wrap my head around all the aspects of speech and language development and how each area intertwines with each other.

During grad school, my CFY, and first few jobs, I worked with only adults in an acute inpatient care, in short-term and long-term rehab, and in outpatient facilities. Rehabilitation just clicked for me. TBI, aphasia, apraxia, dysarthria, dysphagia….I just got it!

Then, one job switched me to outpatient pediatrics and my whole professional career shifted! I feel in love with pediatrics and enjoyed the challenge. This was a whole new ball game. I wasn’t working on fixing/compensating an already built system. Instead, I was working on developing a system. Yikes! 

Now, I knew all about speech and language development from studying in grad school. However, I took years to grasp how children develop these skills and how to best help them.

I will explain articulation, expressive/receptive language, and pragmatic language skills. I will not give you the textbook definitions since many other websites have already done that and have done a great job!

Head on over to American Speech Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) for that. 

5 main areas of speech language development

Speech Development

Speech development refers to the development of the tongue, lips, breath support, voice, and jaw to produce sounds. 

It may also be referred to as articulation.

Certain sounds are easier for children to say as they require less muscle coordination, movement, and/or fine motor control. Therefore, children TYPICALLY learn certain sounds before others. If your child has trouble saying certain sounds, it may be developmentally normal. If you are concerned, please contact a speech-language pathologist.

How well children say sounds is how "intelligible" they are. By 4 years of age, a child should be 100% intelligible even if he/she makes articulation errors (i.e. saying "wabbit" for "rabbit").

Click here for detailed information on speech development and when certain sounds develop and grab free handouts on speech development.

Click here for more information on the various speech disorders.

Expressive Language

Expressive language is what we say (vocabulary & morphology) and how we say it (syntax/grammar).

We use expressive language to talk with friends, explain ideas, express wants and needs, and tell stories.

Vocabulary development is a very important part of expressive language. To learn more about vocabulary development and the difference between knowing a word and REALLY knowing what it means, click on vocabulary development. I HIGHLY suggest it!! 

Receptive Language

Receptive language is what we understand. This includes understanding words, sentences, and stories.

We use receptive language skills to take part in conversations, learn in school, follow directions, and understand stories. Our receptive language skills depend on our listening skills, language processing abilities, vocabulary, and working memory.

For games to encourage speech-language development in these areas, check out:

Pragmatic Language

Pragmatics skills are social language skills and include turn-taking skills, topic maintenance in conversations, body language such as eye contact, and much more.

Reading & Writing Skills (development page in the works!)

Reading and writing skills are built upon vocabulary, learned grammar structures, story grammar/narrative structure, and phonological awareness skills. 

Phonological awareness is the realization that sounds make up words. Some examples of phonological awareness skills are rhyming, breaking words into syllables, and  identifying the first, middle, or final sounds in words.

The emergent literacy theory of language states children start "learning to read" as babies! Babies can't read; however, babies can develop an awareness of books, of words in books, and of simple story structure. These are necessary precursors for learning how to read.


› Speech Language Development



Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series