What Is Expressive Language?

Expressive language refers to how your child uses words to express himself/herself. Expressive language includes the meaning of words, making new words, putting words together to form sentences, and the ability to select what words should be used based on the situation.

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Using words and sentences

Children begin to babble and use consonant sounds between 6 and 12 months old. First words generally begin to appear between 10 and 12 months, along with ‘baby-talk’ or ‘jibber-jabber’. By 18 months, children should be able to use approximately 50 single words. As a child turns 2 years old, he will begin to combine words into 2-3 word phrases, such as ‘my ball’, ‘got it’, or ‘more please’. From ages 3 to 5 years, a child will begin to combine 3-5+ words into well-formed sentences.

Higher Language Learning

Higher level language skills include the ability to answer questions, form grammatically correct sentences, use a variety of word forms (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, etc.), maintain topic in conversation, use a wide variety of vocabulary, etc. Children who struggle with higher level language often have difficulty answering questions and participating in reciprocal conversations.

Non-verbal Communication

Non-verbal communication is often part of social language, or pragmatics. This includes a child’s ability to make requests and communicate using his or her hands, space, or body language. Non-verbal communication can include pointing, gesturing, eye gaze, signing, making facial expressions, using body language (shrugging, sad/happy face), creating distance between a speaker, etc. Pointing and gesturing is how a child will first indicate his/her wants and needs. These cues generally fade as a child begins to use words rather than gestures by 2 years old. As a child becomes older, he or she will use non-verbal communication paired with words in order to effectively communicate a point (i.e. shrugging when sad).


​Birth – 3 Months

Makes pleasure sounds; cries differently for different needs; smiles when sees people

3 – 6 Months

Babbles sounds including “m, b, p;” laughs; vocalizes excitement and displeasure; makes gurgling sounds; establishes eye contact

6 – 12 Months

Babbles with strings of sounds; uses speech and/or non-crying sounds to gain and keep attention; uses gestures to communicate (e.g. waving, holding out arms to be picked up); imitates speech sounds; uses one or two words

1 – 2 Years

Has a vocabulary of 50 words by 18 months and 200-300 words by 2 years; begins asking “what’s that;” uses rising intonation to ask questions; says more words every month; pairs gestures with words; uses some one or two word questions (e.g. “Mommy?” or “Where ball?”); uses social words “hi” and “bye;” engages in verbal turn taking; puts two words together; uses many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words

2 – 3 Years

Has a vocabulary of 1,000 words by 3 years; asks simple “where, what/what doing” questions; has a word for almost everything; uses two and three-word phrases; uses sounds “k, g, f, t, d, n;” speech is understood by familiar listeners most of the time; ask for or directs attention to objects; makes conversational repairs; may stutter on words/sounds

3 – 4 Years

Has a vocabulary of 1,600 words by 4 years; asks “why;” asks questions using “what, where, when, how, whose;” inverts auxiliary verbs and subject when asking questions (e.g. “Where is mommy”); talks about activities at school or home; people outside the family usually understand the child’s speech; answers simple “who, what, where” questions; asks “when” and “how” questions; says rhyming words; uses pronouns, uses regular plurals; uses sentences with 4 or more words; talks easily without repeating syllables or words

4 – 5 Years

Has a vocabulary of 2,200-2,500 words by 5 years; asks questions with accurate grammatical structures including “Do you; Are we going to” and “Can you;” says all speech sounds in words (errors may persist on “l, s, r, v, ch, sh, th”); responds to “what did you say?;” names letters and numbers; uses sentence with more than one action; tells a short story; keeps conversation going; talks in different ways depending on the listener and the environment

5 – 6 Years

Has a vocabulary of 2,600-7,00 words by 6 years; uses word plays; uses threats and promises; asks meaning of words; asks questions to gain information; announces topic shifts; is understood by familiar and unfamiliar people

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