A Parent’s Guide to Expanding Language Part 1: In the Car

You have been told that your child has an “expressive language delay.” I’m sure many questions begin to run through your mind, including “What does this mean? What is expressive language? Is there anything I can do at home?” To answer the last question quite simply: YES! Expressive language is a very general term used to describe how we USE language. This is different from receptive language, which is the ability to take in and UNDERSTAND language. Expressive language encompasses many skills: vocabulary, sequencing, grammar, descriptors, pragmatic/social skills, asking and answering questions, and making inferences or predictions. There is no one way to go about treating expressive language disorders. Depending on the area of difficulty, your child’s speech language pathologist (SLP) will address his/her goals differently during therapy sessions. However, YOU as the parent can help more than you may think right at home! Provided in three entries are ways and times during the day in which you can create a more language-rich environment for your child and help to expand his/her expressive language abilities. On the way home from school, ask your child questions about their day! Try to avoid yes/no questions so that your child must provide more than just 1-word answers. Incorporating various "How" and “Wh”-questions will offer opportunities for longer responses:

  1. How was school?
  2. What was your favorite part? Why?
  3. Where did you have recess?
  4. What did you have for lunch?
  5. Who did you sit with?
  6. What did you do on the playground?
  7. Why do you like the swings more than the slide?

Many children with expressive language difficulties have trouble sequencing their thoughts out loud. They may show weaknesses with retelling past events, stating steps of an activity in order, or demonstrating appropriate flow of conversation. Have them explain some of their school routines or activities to you:

  1. Tell me how your class gets ready for lunch.
  2. What do you do to get ready for going home?
  3. What is Ms. Smith’s morning routine?
  4. Tell me the order of your field trip activities.

Provide opportunities for your child to describe or use various basic concepts. Using adjectives, adverbs, and other descriptors make our messages more interesting and clearer to our communicative partners. Talk about what you see when you look out the car windows:

  1. I see the stop light! What do the colors mean?
  2. That car is moving SLOW, but that car is moving (FAST)!
  3. The tree is BIG, but the bush is (SMALL).
  4. Where is the bird/dog/man?
  5. UNDER the tree
  6. IN the sky
  7. ON the bench
  8. BETWEEN the bushes
  9. Colors, shapes, categories
  10. shapes: circle/sun, octagon/stop sign, triangle/yield
  11. animals: bird, dog, rabbit, possum
  12. colors: yellow/sun, green/grass, pink/flower
  13. vehicles: bus, van, car, airplane, motorcycle

The next segment to be shared will focus on meal time. It can be so easy to enhance our child's language just by taking a more active role in our daily routines and activities! --Shannon Greenlee M.A., CCC-SLP