If your child has language troubles, you’re not alone. Around three to five per cent of children experience difficulties in this area. The great news is that most language issues can be overcome or minimised with the right speech-language therapy.

A child with language difficulties may have trouble understanding written and spoken language or gestures (known as receptive language), or find it hard to express themselves through the spoken or written word (known as expressive language).

You might notice your child has trouble listening or following instructions. They might not have many words or speak infrequently, become frustrated because they can’t express themselves, give unusual answers to questions, or struggle to form clear written or spoken sentences.

Below are the two main types of language difficulties for children, and what to expect from both.


Receptive language

Receptive language is the ability to understand words and signals. Children with receptive language issues may have trouble understanding what is being said or asked of them.

Some children with receptive language difficulties become adept at picking up on key words or gestures. When this happens, it may appear like they understand what is being communicated when in fact they are using clues to guess and respond. 

Depending on their age, children with receptive language difficulties might:

  • Struggle to understand and follow instructions
  • Appear like they aren’t paying attention
  • Repeat a question instead of providing an answer
  • Give an unusual answer, as though they haven’t understood the question
  • Have trouble concentrating on what’s being said
  • Withdraw and avoid certain tasks and activities


Expressive language

Expressive language is the ability to communicate using words, facial expressions and gestures. Children with expressive language issues can usually form words, but have trouble understanding how words and sentences fit together to form meaning.  

Depending on their age, children with expressing language difficulties might:

  • Have difficulty finding the right words to express themselves
  • Not be talking
  • Use shorter words and sentences compared to children of a similar age
  • Frequently use the wrong words or leave out words in sentences (they might say “I going” instead of “I am going”)
  • Have difficulty answering your questions
  • Have difficulty telling you what they have been doing or retelling a story
  • Often rely on using familiar phrases when speaking with others

Remember, children develop language skills at different rates. Sometimes, they simply need a little extra help to catch up with their peers. Our Speech Pathology team can provide assessment and support for your family.

Contact us for more information.