Receptive Language

I Understand

Receptive language involves your baby’s ability to listen and understand words.


One simple way your baby is developing his receptive language skills is by listening and making meaning during routines. For instance, Mom walks into her son Aiden’s room and says, “Good morning, Aiden!” as she picks him up from the crib. Then she proceeds with the morning or afternoon routine.


Aiden’s listening to Mom, along with experiencing the action of being lif ted up, leads to his understanding that it is time to wake up. The sequential activities that follow reinforce this understanding.

Before your baby was born he was learning language. Even while in utero your baby was listening to the sounds and speech of your voice.

Listening leads to your baby eventually developing literacy skills that begin right from the start. Receptive language is very hard to see in action, as much of it is cerebral. When your baby responds to the sound of a nice voice, he is displaying the beginnings of receptive language. This is also a sign that your baby is beginning to learn that communication is important and useful in his life.

If your baby is crying and hears your voice this will quiet him down as it is a familiar sound. This is your baby demonstrating that he hears you and understands you’re a support person.

While your baby is still learning to understand oral language he may appear to be comprehending what is being said because he is picking up key words (e.g. “Good morning, Aiden!”) and get ting visual information from the environment or from gestures by parents (e.g. experiencing Mom pick him up). This enables your baby to learn language in a relatively predictable pat tern (listening leads to understanding).

Receptive language is important for your baby’s development because it will help him communicate successfully. For instance, have you ever wondered why doctors want a baby to cry when he is born? A good vocal cry is a sign that the lungs are developed and that your infant has a voice. Your baby uses his voice to communicate that he needs you to help him feel safe and loved. This is the only way your baby knows how to communicate to you at birth.

Support the development of your baby’s receptive language skills by making eye contact as you speak to your baby. He will be better able to see your lips move as he listens to your words.

Remember: Listening leads to understanding, and understanding leads to your baby’s ability to follow directions during his toddler years and develop meaningful social experiences with others in his environment.

Milestones in baby’s receptive language development include:

- smiling when he hears your voice;
- looking for the source of new sounds at four to six months;
- responding to requests (“Give it to Mommy”) at seven months;
- pointing to a few body parts when asked (nose, eyes, tummy) between 12 and 24 months.