Language skills begin at birth when even newborns are aware of the sounds around them. Receptive language refers to learning to listen and understanding language, while expressive language skills refer to learning to speak and use language. Here are some general developmental milestones for children:

Receptive Language
• Aware of sounds in the environment
• Listen to the speech of people nearby
• Startled by unexpected or loud noises
• Will stop to listen to new sounds

Expressive Language
• Makes sounds to communicate pleasure or pain

0-3 Months:
Receptive Language
• Will turn toward parents/caretakers when they speak

• Smile at familiar voices
• Recognize and quiet at the sound of familiar voices
• Stop to listen to unfamiliar voices
• Respond to comforting tones whether the voice is familiar of not

Expressive Language
• Smiles and coos
• Differentiate between cries (for example, babies will use different tones when hungry versus when in pain.)

4-6 Months:
Receptive Language
• May respond to the word no
• Responsive to changes in familiar voices and to sounds other than speech

Expressive Language
• Makes gurgling sounds when someone is playing with them or when they are occupying themselves
• Begins to babble using speech-like sounds such as “p”, “b” or “m” sounds.
• Uses gestures or sounds to communicate

7-12 Months:
Receptive Language
• Listens and turns toward voice when spoken to
• Discovers the fun of games such as “pat-a-cake”
• Responds to requests (for example, when asked to give something to someone, etc.)
• Recognizes the names of familiar objects

Expressive Language
• Babbling changes to include more consonant as well as short and long vowel sounds
• Uses speech or sounds other than crying to get parent’s attention
• Probably has said first words although probably not clearly such as bye, bye, dada, mama, etc.

1-2 years:
Receptive Language
• Identifies pictures in books when you name them
• Identifies a few body parts when asked
• Will follow simple commands and understands simple questions
• Will listen to and enjoy simple stories, songs and rhymes
• Will enjoy repetition of stories, rhymes and songs

Expressive Language
• Vocabulary expands with each passing month
• Asks 2-word questions like “what’s that?”
• Combines two words to make Stage 1 Sentence Types (“no doggie”, “more push”, etc.)
• Words becoming clearer and easier for others to understand

2-3 years:
Receptive Language
• Understands two stage commands
• Understands contrasting concepts like hot/cold, fast/slow
• Notices sounds like the telephone rings and will get excited about these sounds

Expressive Language
• Vocabulary is exploding
• Seems to have a word for almost everything
• Usually understood by family members
• May ask for attention by naming things or commenting on the attribute of something like size
• Linking two to four words together

3-4 years:
Receptive Language
• Understands simple who?, what”, why’ questions
• Able to hear you from another room

Expressive Language
• Using longer sentences with four or more words
• Interested in talking about things that happened away from home like friends, pre-school, outings or interesting experiences
• Usually speaks clearly and fluently
• Others understand what your child is saying

This is also the age when hearing or stuttering difficulties may become evident.

4-5 years:
Receptive Language:
• Enjoys stories and can answer simple questions about the stories
• Understands nearly everything that is said to them

Expressive Language
• Speaks clearly and fluently
• Able to construct long and detailed sentences
• Able to tell long and detailed stories using “adult-like” grammar
• Pronounces most sounds correctly, though your child may still be lisping as a four year old and have some difficulty with consonants such as “r”, “v” and “th” at five.
• Communicated easily with other kids and familiar adults
• May tell tall tales or engage strangers in conversation when out with parents

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