In this short series on language, I’ve shared the definition of language in general, how spoken and written language are further divided into listening, speaking, reading and writing, and how the 5 domains of language (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics) manifest across those areas of language. If you missed them, you can read about language here, and receptive language therapy ideas and strategies here.
A reminder that expressive language has to do with how we use verbal and written language, also including gestures and sign language, to communicate our ideas. Difficulty with expressive language skills can be due to a variety of delays and disorders including: expressive language delay related to being a “late talker”, processing delays and disorders, Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury, Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, Hearing Impairment, sensory issues, emotional issues such as anxiety and trauma, or other cognitive, behavioral or environmental issues that impact development and learning.
Expressive language delays and disorders manifest in a variety of ways, from little to no language output to incorrect grammar and syntax. Expressive language challenges are as unique as the child. Receptive and expressive language are so intertwined that it is difficult, and not my preference, to separate them. However, it is good to know how to address them “individually” since receptive and expressive languages have their own particular set of skills, in spite of many crossovers. It is from here that I can share some particular speech therapy interventions to target expressive language skills, along with some strategies to use.
Expressive language difficulties make it hard for children to put their language together in a logical order when they are retelling a story or correctly order the steps of an activity. There are many games, apps and activities to help improve sequencing skills. Cooking, the morning or evening routine, retelling a story or doing a creative activity are some examples of sequencing activities.
Using adjectives and adverbs help to make our ideas more vivid and interesting. Children with expressive language difficulties often leave describing words out and will tend to use more fillers such as “um”, “uh”, “stuff”, “thing” and “like”. They will also use “this”, “that” and “those” instead of describing what they are thinking or seeing. Kids can be encouraged to say more about what they are seeing, reading or writing in nearly every activity.
Describing pictures is a helpful way to start the process. Watching a video and then pausing it periodically to have them describe what is going on, and what they see, is a fun way for kids to practice using describing words. Doing crafts together and describing the different materials in their creation helps bring out describing words.
With expressive language difficulties you often hear children omitting the smaller parts of words (morphological markers). Possessives, plurals, suffixes and prefixes, along with conjunctions (and, but, or), articles (a, an, and, the) and transition words (when, while, because, before, after). Leaving out these key structures changes the meaning of words and does not produce correct sentences. Apps, games, and online materials can be used, along with the child’s school curriculum, to improve verbal and written grammar skills.
Asking and Answering Questions
Having a conversation and having kids ask a question, make a comment or give someone a compliment is an excellent way to practice expressive and social language skills at the same time. Silly stories, conversation starters of high interest, games like Would You Rather, or a more structured format of talking about the weekend or daily routines are all great ways to get conversations going.
When a child has reduced expressive language, vocabulary skills are impacted. For school age kids, when reading, you can highlight or underline new or unfamiliar words. From there, you can look at the context of the story and surrounding key words to determine the meaning of the word. For younger kids, naming pictures and pointing to single words and simple sentences helps to build vocabulary. Working on prefixes, suffixes and root words also helps build vocabulary. It gives children an understanding of how to figure out new words by understanding what each part of the word means.
Metaphors, similies and idioms are all fun ways to build vocabulary and increase critical thinking skills. Children learn how to make their language colorful as they learn new words and ideas in figurative language. Poetry is full of figurative language, as is our everyday language.
Expressing what is between the lines in what we have read or what has been said, the Why and How of what we are talking about, is crucial to building strong critical thinking skills. Cause and effect, problem solving and prediction skills practiced through stories and current events are great ways to practice inferencing.
Here are some strategies you can use to support building expressive language skills:
Build Language Slowly
Start with simple words and phrases and build up from there. Add specific skills slowly. Connecting words to activities helps it have context and meaning.
Modeling language is very helpful for the child to understand how grammar, syntax and vocabulary are used.
Use Non-Verbal Cues
Pairing gestures with words is very helpful in supporting language development. Pointing, gesturing, and moving the body supports building expressive language skills.
Combine Speech and Movement
When learning new words, it is helpful to make the movement in the body to support the neuromotor pairing of speech and motor skills. For example, you can model and then request that the child say “move the train” as they move it around. This also works well with naming tasks and verbalizing directions in the daily routine.
Language support can be integrated into everyday situations and used in specific activities. Be creative, have fun, be flexible and understanding. We all learn better communication as we learn and grow together!
At Vibe, our speech therapists are trained to work with children and adults of every age, in every facet of speech and language. We are experts in our field. The clinical and personal relationship we have with you is at the core of everything we do. From the resources we bring to support growth in all areas of your life, to the highly individualized therapy sessions, and the collaborative partnerships we make with other providers and family and caregivers, we are committed to exceeding your expectations. We look forward to helping you bring your best self into the world!
Contact Vibe Speech Therapy to learn more about how we can help you!