Receptive Language

What are receptive language skills?

Receptive language skills are the skills that we use to understand language and gain meaning from information (words and sentences). This is both in written and spoken language.

Why are these skills important?

We need these skills to understand spoken and written language to enable us to communicate effectively. They are required to understand classroom routines, spoken information or basic instructions, e.g. “Put on your coat.”

How do I know if my child or young person has difficulties with receptive language?

A child or young person may find it difficult to follow basic instructions (usually one key word level instruction, per year of life, e.g. three key word level instruction for a child aged three: “Give the dolly to mummy.”) Children and young people may also find it hard to understand new vocabulary words and answer questions about something they have heard / watched.

What can I do to improve my child or young person’s receptive language skills?

  • Break language into smaller, more manageable chunks to help them understand
  • Use simple language to help them understand
  • Emphasise key words
  • Give the child or young person one instruction at a time
  • Support spoken language with gesture or signing
  • Look at books together and talk about the pictures and the story, naming items throughout
  • Ask your child or young person a range of questions e.g. “Can you find something blue?”, “What is going to happen next?” or “How does X feel?”
  • Join in with what they are playing with
  • Check your child or young person is paying attention prior to giving them information
  • Comment on what your child or young person is doing
  • Ask your child or young person what they have understood, e.g. “Dad said we need to….”?


Below you will find some resources to help you develop your child or young person’s receptive language skills: