Difference Between Receptive and Expressive Language

Main Difference – Receptive vs. Expressive Language

Receptive and Expressive Language are two language skills that develop from infancy. The main difference between receptive and expressive language is that Receptive language is the ability to understand words and gestures whereas Expressive language is the ability to express thoughts by words and sentences.

What is Receptive Language

Receptive language is the ability to understand the language. Receptive language skills include understanding and responding to the spoken language, and written words. Nonetheless, receptive language does not only deal with vocabulary skills, but it also deals with understanding gestures, interpreting the difference between questions, statements and instructions, and accurately understanding some grammatical concepts.

Ability to follow instructions, understand stories, point out objects, and gain information through visual and auditory information are some examples of receptive language skills. Receptive skills are the first language skills that are developed by a child. Children start to learn language skills from their birth itself when they recognize and respond to familiar voices and sounds. Children with receptive language disorders find it difficult to understand directions and may not respond appropriately. Inability to understand language may result in behavioral problems as well. However, receptive language skills are relatively easy to develop, even for children with language disorders. This is because children do not have to recall words; they can respond by gestures.Main Difference -Receptive vs Expressive language

What is Expressive Language

Expressive language is the ability to communicate. This is the ability to express one’s thoughts, ideas, wants, and needs. Identifying and labeling the objects in the environment, putting words together to form a sentence, describing events and actions, answering questions, making requests are some examples of expressive language skills. Expressive language does not only deal with using language appropriately, but it include incorporating facial expressions and gestures as well. Writing is also considered as an expressive language skill.

It’s easy to recognize the development of the expressive language. When a baby starts cooing hearing a familiar voice, he is beginning to use expressive language skills. However, expressive language skills only start to develop once a child start to develop receptive skills. When a child begins to talk, his or her receptive language skills are much more developed than their expressive language skills. In addition, expressive language skills are more difficult to develop than receptive skills because a child has to remember the relevant word or words he wants to communicate in order to express it. Children who suffer from expressive language difficulties often indicate behavioral problems.Difference Between Receptive and Expressive Language-expressive language

Difference Between Receptive Language and Expressive Language


Receptive language is the ability to understand words and language.

Expressive language is the ability to put one’s thoughts into words or sentences.


Receptive language skills are related to listening and reading

Expressive language skills are related to speaking and writing.


Receptive language skills are relatively easier to develop.

Expressive language skills are not as easy to understand as receptive language.


Receptive language skills are the first language skills to be developed in a child.

Expressive language skills can be used only after receptive skills are developed.


When a baby responds to a familiar voice, he is displaying the beginning of receptive language skills.

When a baby start cooing when he hears a familiar voice, he is displaying the beginning of expressive language skills.Difference Between Receptive and Expressive Language-infographic

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