Receptive language is how we take in and understand language; it is what we hear, see and read. This also includes body language and environmental clues. All these elements help us to interpret the situation and give meaning, so that we can understand what is needed or required of us. We do not need to be able to produce language to receive and understand it, so infants and toddlers understand far more than they can express (expressive language).
Our understanding through receptive language enables us to communicate, socialise and comprehend instructions, different situations and scenarios.
Expressive language is our ability to put our thoughts, needs and wants into words and sentences in a way that makes sense and is grammatically correct. A baby’s expressive language to begin with is based on cries and gestures moving to sound making, combined with gestures and their body language. We use this expressive language when we speak and write. Even when babies and toddlers move to speaking words they have a limited vocabulary which is why they can get frustrated when we do not understand them.