What is Expressive Language?:

Expressive language refers to the way your child communicates his/her wants and needs. It includes areas of vocal development, social communication, vocabulary concepts, and use of age appropriate grammatical markers. Children with delays in expressive communication skills may exhibit poor eye contact, difficulty engaging with other children, and an underdeveloped vocabulary. 

How do I talk to my (infant, toddler, child)? 

Language can be facilitated through the use of everyday activities and across multiple environments. Your child’s learning environment can look like the backseat of a car, the dinner table, taking a bath, and even when tackling the daunting task of potty training. As speech therapists, we tell our parents to talk to their children until they are annoyed with hearing their own voice. Once you hit your peak, talk a little past that and you may have exposed your child to enough verbal communication for the day. 

When working on your child’s communication skills at home, it is important to talk, talk and talk some more. A slow speaking rate and concise messages allow your child’s brain more time to process what you are saying and how you are saying it. As you are dressing him/her explain slowly what you are doing, as you are bathing them explain the parts of the body that you are washing,  and why he or she might be taking a bath, and so forth. The constant verbal feedback is crucial in the development of early communication skills. 

Your child does not have to know how to talk for language development to be happening. Become your child’s personal Morgan Freeman, you know from the Liberty Mutual commercials., or imagine yourself as Bob Costas, the sportscaster, and narrate every play, tactile, or move that your child is doing.  

Narration: Self-talk vs Parallel-talk

Self-talk is the narration of your day. Self-talk is when a parent or caregiver uses short and concise sentences to state what they are doing, seeing, hearing, smelling, etc. For example “Mommy is making coffee. I am pouring the coffee into my cup. Mommy is drinking,” and so on. You do not have to go out of your way to utilize this language facilitation technique. For some people, verbally narrating their day does not come naturally. That is ok! Learning is a process and everything takes time. The more you practice self-talk the more comfortable you will get and then you will become one of those parents talking to themselves as they stroll down the aisle of Target!

Parallel-talk is when you begin to narrate the actions of your child, stating what they are hearing, feeling, seeing, doing, etc. Embed your self into your child’s world. If your child is playing with cars you could say “Your yellow car goes beep beep beep, or vroom, vroom, vroom goes the big blue truck”. If your child has a doll or stuffed animal you can narrate their movements through play. For example, “Look your bear is going up, up, up”, or “Awh, is your baby laying down? She is so sleepy. She is taking a nap”, and so on. 

When utilizing self-talk and parallel-talk, you are not requiring your child to respond. Rather, you are using this technique to build vocabulary, model responses, and increase social language skills. 


Music is also a great tool to utilize when facilitating language concepts. Studies show that rhythm and rhyme are great for developing memory and involving children in language learning activities. Engage your child in songs with multiple repetitions and are accompanied by hand movements. Additionally,  music is a great tool for developing vocabulary and appropriate grammar in young children. 

Sample Songs are included::

The Wheels on the Bus


Five Little Monkeys

If You’re Happy and You Know It

Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Remember, all genres of music have some sort of rhythm and rhyme. If nursery rhymes are not your cup of tea, don’t use them. You can still facilitate learning language concepts while belting out the words to your favorite Whitney Houston song or when line dancing to Garth Brooks. 

Need a few more ideas? Below you will find 15 great ways to further encourage expressive language skills through everyday activities: 

15 Ways to Encourage Expressive Speech and Language Skills with Your Child

Jorri obtained her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in the area of Communication Science and Disorders from Valdosta State University. She joined the staff of Building Bridges Therapy in 2010 and was promoted to Assistant Clinical Director in October of 2017. Jorri has presented at various conferences and parent seminars on topics including developmentally appropriate norms, oral motor development and feeding difficulties, sensory feeding disorders, and the effects of sensory processing disorders on relationships. Jorri has gained invaluable insight and improved her clinical skills by attending courses related to management and treatment of pediatric feeding disorders, oral motor activities and dysfunction, optimizing breastfeeding safety/outcomes in the presence of feeding and swallowing disorders, as well as a language based approach to treating echolalia. She has extensive experience in the areas of treating language disorders, feeding, apraxia, fluency, articulation, oral motor dysfunction, and receptive/expressive language deficits. Jorri is in the process of completing all requirements to become a certified lactation counselor. Outside of work Jorri enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters and going to restaurants with friends.