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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Sophiea

Language Disorders, explained.

What is a language disorder? Someone with a language disorder has difficulty understanding language and/or using language.

Let's break it down:

  • There are three types of language disorders: Receptive, Expressive, and Mixed.


Receptive Language Disorder:

  • Difficulty understanding language is called a Receptive Language Disorder

    • Receptive language disorders impact someone's ability to comprehend language. For instance, receptive language disorders may cause difficulty with:

      • Answering questions

      • Following directions

      • Understanding stories

      • Understanding abstract language such as idioms, similes, and metaphors

      • Interpreting humor and sarcasm

      • Making an inference

      • Understanding concepts

      • Listening comprehension, especially when there are no pictures to go along with the information

Academic Impact:

  • Math: Receptive language disorders are often tied to difficulty in math, especially once word problems and mathematical concepts are involved.

  • Reading Comprehension: A receptive language disorder directly connects to reading comprehension. If someone has difficulty understanding what they hear, they will have difficulty understanding what they read. Difficulties with reading comprehension impact students across subject areas.

    • Importantly, when a person also has difficulty reading the words on a page (also called, "decoding") it becomes even more difficult for them to understand what they read. When someone's brain is working hard to read the words on the page, they don't have as much cognitive energy to put towards understanding what they read.

  • Writing: Even though writing is an expressive skill (meaning, the author's main job is to formulate information), receptive language difficulties can impact someone's writing skills. When someone has trouble understanding language, they may miss out on important aspects of language such as sentence structure, vocabulary, organization, point of view, audience awareness, and verb tense. The list goes on and on. The longer someone goes without understanding key aspects of language, the harder it is for them to use language correctly. Typically, it is thought that if you can't understand an aspect of language, you won't be able to use it.

  • Receptive language disorders can also impact social interactions as difficulty understanding language can lead to feeling lost within a conversation, difficulty interpreting humor, recognizing various perspectives or group dynamics, and inability to keep up with the pace of group interaction.


Expressive Language Disorder

  • Difficulty using language is called an Expressive Language Disorder

    • Expressive language disorders affect someone's ability to produce language. For example, they may have difficulty:

      • Formulating sentences

      • Asking questions

      • Retrieving a word

      • Pronouncing a word in the correct way

      • Telling stories

      • Providing definitions

      • Describing

      • Organizing their language

      • Using a variety of vocabulary words

      • Telling jokes

      • Speaking fluently; meaning, they may pause frequently, stop and start sentences, restart sentences, or stop mid-sentence

Academic Impact:

  • Writing: People with expressive language disorders typically have difficulty with writing. If they have trouble saying it, they most likely will have difficulty writing it.

  • Since writing and speaking are involved in every subject area, people with expressive language disorders are impacted across academic subjects.

  • Socially, people with expressive language disorders may have difficulty effectively communicating, may produce unorganized, confusing comments that lead to communication breakdowns, and may shy away from participating.


Mixed receptive-expressive language disorder

  • A mixed receptive-expressive language disorder is when someone has difficulty understanding and using language. In other words, a mixed disorder refers to a combination of receptive and expressive language disorders.


Language disorders affect people in various ways at different stages of life. Language is the foundation for academics, social interactions, and general communication. A speech-language pathologist is an expert in treating language disorders and is trained to help. Remember that knowledge is power; reach out to a trained professional if you think a loved one in your life may benefit from language services.

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