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Expressive language

Expressive language is the way we put words together into phrases and sentences to express meaning. It includes aspects such as word order, use of small function words (e.g. of, are) and word endings (e.g. signal plurals and different verb tenses).

Expressive language development follows a recognised sequence. If a child’s expressive language development is at a slower rate than their peers, they have an expressive language delay. If they are not following this progression, their expressive language is considered to be disordered.

Your child may:

  • Use the main content words and miss out many of the small function words
  • Struggle to express their ideas clearly, pausing and revising what they have said
  • Use incorrect word order and, as a result, distort the meaning of what they are saying
  • Use a limited range of verb tenses, for example just the present tense
  • Sound immature compared with their peers, for example “me do that”
  • Use grammatically correct phrases but not join these together with conjunctions or joining words such as “and” or “because”
  • Make errors in their written language that mirror their expressive language or, sometimes, errors that are not present when they are speaking
  • Have difficulty telling a coherent narrative, for example a piece of news or retelling a story
  • Over use grammatical rules such as past tense “ed” as in “falled” or plural “s” as in “mouses” when their peers are no longer doing this
  • Repeat your child’s language using the correct sentence structures. This checks that you have understood their meaning and provides them with a good model
  • Expand what they have said a little, for example if your child says “man walking”, the adult says “yes, the man is walking home”
  • Give your child extra time, if necessary, to express their ideas and avoid finishing their sentences for them
  • Use picture sequences to develop their narrative skills. Ask them to put the pictures in order and then say one or two sentences about each picture to produce a coherent story
  • Explain grammatical rules and allow them to have plenty of practice. Explain any exceptions to the general rules
  • Use writing frames to help your child plan their written work

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you’re still not seeing any improvement after four months, please read the referral criteria so that we can ensure your enquiry is directed to the right area and follow the directions on that page. 

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