Receptive and Expressive Language Components

While there are distinct differences between receptive and expressive language, language is a dynamic, synergistic system of communication that weaves in and out of the two modalities.  Per ASHA (American Speech/Language Hearing Association), language is defined as the comprehension and/or use of a spoken (listening and speaking), written (reading and writing), and/or other communication symbol system (American Sign Language). 

Receptive language is composed of listening and reading, and expressive language is composed of speaking and writing. Receptive and expressive language have specific components that identify them as having an individualized language domain.  When testing is done to determine strengths and weaknesses in areas of language, these domains are differentiated to give detailed information as to what areas are in need of support.  

As outlined by ASHA, descriptions of the five language domains are as follows:

  • Phonology—study of the speech sound (i.e., phoneme) system of a language, including the rules for combining and using phonemes.
  • Morphology—study of the rules that govern how morphemes, the minimal meaningful units of language, are used in a language.
  • Syntax—the rules that pertain to the ways in which words can be combined to form sentences in a language.
  • Semantics—the meaning of words and combinations of words in a language.
  • Pragmatics—the rules associated with the use of language in conversation and broader social situations.

The five basic language domains are part of a continuum which spans to higher order language skills, such as discourse, which is impacted by skills in the pragmatics domain, or what is commonly known as social language and critical thinking skills.

Higher order language skills include inferencing; comprehension monitoring; interpretation of complex language, such as jokes and puns; and use of text structure knowledge. Metalinguistic awareness is required for the development of higher order language skills, what we commonly say is “thinking about thinking”. Metalinguistic awareness includes phonological awareness, morphological awareness, syntactic awareness, semantic awareness, and pragmatic awareness. Metalinguistic skills are also critical for self-regulation and self-monitoring. In order to be successful in society, one needs to be able to see a larger picture, take the perspective and have empathy of another, know how to problem solve, and understand basic and advanced communication skills, including non-verbal communication.

The following chart outlines the 5 domains of language and how they manifest in the areas of spoken vs. written language, and more specifically in the areas of listening, speaking, reading and writing.

 Spoken LanguageWritten Language
 ListeningSpeakingReadingWriting
Phonologyability to identify and distinguish phonemes while listening (phonological awareness)appropriate use of phonological patterns while speakingunderstanding of letter-sound associations while reading (phonics)accurate spelling of words while writing
Morphologyunderstanding morphemes when listeningusing morphemes correctly when speakingunderstanding grammar while readingappropriate use of grammar when writing
Syntaxunderstanding sentence structure elements when listeningusing correct sentence structure elements when speakingunderstanding sentence structure while readingusing correct sentence structure when writing
Semanticslistening vocabularyspeaking vocabularyreading vocabularywriting vocabulary
Pragmatics(includes discourse)understanding of the social aspects of spoken language, including conversational exchangessocial use of spoken language, including production of cohesive and relevant messages during conversationsunderstanding point-of-view, needs of the audience, etc.conveying point-of-view, intended message, etc.

See ASHA’s resource titled Developmental Norms for Speech and Language for more information.

Complexity and Diversity

As you can see, language is a complex system with multiple and varied inputs and influences.  The multiple inputs of receptive and expressive language, or language learning and use, are determined by the interaction of many factors: biological, cognitive, psychosocial, and environmental. Additionally, language evolves within and is continually shaped by historical, social, and cultural contexts. 

In order for language to be used effectively, the individual must demonstrate an understanding of human interaction, including nonverbal cues, motivation, and sociocultural roles. We can see the varied aspects of communication differences in the form of different dialects in our community and in societies around the world. Dialects emerge when people share regional, social, or cultural/ethnic factors.

The Connection Between Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing

These connections are highly specific and require mastery to make linguistic strides in all of the domains of language.  While there is much to share on this topic, for now, a brief explanation will provide a basic understanding of the relationship between these foundational skills. And as you may already know, it is hard to separate speaking and writing from listening and reading.  

Phonological awareness is often the canary in the coalmine in seeing difficulties that span the domains of language. We notice it as early as preschool or kindergarten, and it is often one of the first areas impacted in other disorders that impact language. Phonological awareness demonstrates a person’s ability to manipulate speech sounds (phonemes) in spoken words and contributes significantly to reading and writing development. Components of phonological awareness include syllable awareness (one syllable in “cap” vs. two syllables in “again”), onset-rime awareness (onset: cap vs. rime: cap), and phoneme awareness (“cap” contains three phonemes: /k/ + /æ/ + /p/)

When instruction in phonological awareness is paired with knowledge of letter names (graphemic awareness), then phonics, a core written language skill for reading and writing development, is being addressed. Manipulation is Key. Manipulation of speech sounds cannot be stressed enough.  In teaching reading it is crucial to develop mastery and fluency at each stage before progressing.  A foundation must be set in order to build higher and more complex skills.  Phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension are simultaneously active and interdependent in the process of learning to read, write, speak and understand language. 

Language Disorder

A language disorder, as defined by ASHA, is an impairment in the comprehension and/or use of a spoken, written, and/or other communication symbol system, such as American Sign Language. The disorder may involve the form of language (phonology, morphology, syntax), the content of language (semantics), and/or the use of language in communication (pragmatics) in any combination. When you get a formal and/or informal evaluation from a speech/language therapist, you will get a detailed description of how one or more of these areas are impacted, and to what degree.

Language disorders may manifest and persist on a broad spectrum throughout an individual’s life or be a short term intervention.  Many children blossom with shorter interventions to “get them over the hump” when they are demonstrating delayed language, or deficits in a specific area that don’t have a wide and persistent reach to many other domains. Some children will learn how to work with, or move through, a language disorder by using strategies and resources specific to their needs.  And a large number of children may require continued intervention and support throughout their academic life. 

A language disorder can stand alone but often occurs in the context of other diagnosis.  To name a few: stroke, traumatic brain injury, Attention Deficit Disorder (both inattentive and hyperactive types), other health impairments related to biological, cognitive or environmental factors, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Delays, sensory deficits, Central Auditory Processing Deficit, Dyslexia, and Dysgraphia.  Other psycho-emotional and social conditions such as anxiety and depression can also have adverse impacts on language skills. An individual’s maturity, personality, family dynamics and support systems will all influence how fast one grows, and how efficient and successful that growth will be. It is important to remember that a regional, social, or cultural/ethnic variation of communication is considered a language difference, but not a speech or language disorder.

How We Can Help

Language skills are unique and complex interdependent skill sets. Just like snowflakes and fingerprints, no two language disorders are the same.  While assessment results give us quantifying and qualifying indicators, the true potential lies within and beyond the numbers.  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, 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!