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Understanding Language

What is understanding (receptive) language?

Understanding of language (also known as receptive language) is the ability to understand words and language. It involves gaining information and meaning from routine (e.g. we have finished our breakfast so next it is time to get dressed), visual information within the environment (e.g. mum holding her keys means that we are going to get in the car, a green light means go), sounds (e.g. a siren means a fire engine is coming down the street), words (e.g. the word ball means a round bouncy thing we play with), concepts such as size, shape, colors and time, grammar (e.g. regular plurals: cat/s, regular past tense: fetch/ed) and written information (e.g. signs in the environment like “no climbing”, written stories).

Understanding (receptive) language includes:

  • Following instructions

  • Understanding concepts

  • Understanding grammatical elements

  • Understanding sentence structure

  • Understanding questions

  • Understanding stories and written text



Why is understanding (receptive) language important?

Understanding language is important in order to communicate successfully. Children who have understanding difficulties may find it challenging to follow instructions at home or within the educational setting and may not respond appropriately to questions and requests. Within the school setting, difficulties in understanding may lead to attention and listening difficulties and/or behavioral issues. As most activities require a good
understanding of language, it may also make it difficult for a child to access the curriculum or engage in the activities and academic tasks required for their year level of school.



If a child is having difficulties understanding language you may notice:

  • Poor attention and concentration

  • Requires several repetitions of instructions

  • Gives unusual answers to questions

  • Talks excessively to disguise the fact that they don’t really understand

  • Finds it difficult to listen to stories

  • Demonstrates disruptive behaviors

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