Listening and Understanding

Bit by Bit

Receptive language is the aspect of communication that involves hearing, listening, and understanding. In other words, receptive language skills involve the ability to understand words and language by hearing and listening.


Two-year-old Aaron is sitting with his mom at the table looking at a picture book about bears. He points to a picture of a bear and says, “That’s a bar.” (bear) Mom responds, “Yes, that is a bear. Can you say bear?” (Here she is making sure she correctly says the word bear for her son and has him repeat the word.) “Good job! Now can you point to the bear?”


By having Aaron repeat the word and find the pictures of the bear on the page, his mom is listening to hear how well her son hears the correct pronunciation and how well he understands what the word is. At this age your child mispronounces many words.

Your child saying the wrong word is a normal part of the language development process. Often your child is saying the word wrongly because he did not hear the correct way of saying the word or because he did not understand the meaning of the word. Demonstrate the correct way to say a word and repeat with him many times. Use the word in context if you can (e.g. “Bears have fur. Do you see the bear’s fur? Can you touch the bear’s fur?”) By repetition and with your support your child will be able to speak words correctly.

Receptive language is important in order for your child to communicate. Think about a time when your child had difficulty understanding something you asked him to do; having difficulty following directions often occurs because the child does not understand one of the words you are using.

When your child is able to understand directions and what is happening around him, he will be better able to pay attention and listen. Thus, having a good understanding of language will also make it easier for your child to engage in learning activities.

It is important that when you hear your child use a word wrongly, gently pronounce the word the correct way and have him repeat it back to you. Refrain from saying, “No, you said it wrong” because that can discourage your child from trying again.Young children listen a lot! They listen to the sounds you make and the words and phrases you say. As your child develops more language and uses his receptive language skills, he will become more advanced in listening to and understanding information.

That is why it is important to give your child plenty of opportunities to develop his listening and understanding skills. After you have talked about a routine, follow up by asking your child if he can tell you what comes after breakfast or after hearing soft music or after a bath.

As your child listens and understands others, he is also learning that communication is important and useful in his everyday life. Listening and understanding skills will play key roles in how your child communicates his feelings and how he interacts with others.

Opportunities can include:

1. talking during daily routines (e.g. “After breakfast we are going to brush our teeth.”).
2. talking with your child about things that you are doing (e.g. “I am going to add eggs to the batter for our cookies.”).
3. talking about things they can see in their environment (e.g. “I see a blue bird on the tree. He is building a nest.”).