Consider Understanding

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As listeners, we go through several steps to understanding what someone says. First, we must be able to perceive the message. In order to perceive, we use our senses. Sensory deficits, such as vision loss or hearing impairment can impact understanding.

Provided we perceive the message, we need to be able to interpret it. We break down its structure. We analyze what this particular combination of words means. We figure out the function of the message. For example, is it a greeting, a comment, or a question? Word endings may tell us whether the action takes place now, or in the past. A simple “s” tells us about one, or more than one.

As our brains process these structural clues, we get the surface meaning. But there is more beyond the actual meaning of the language. There may also be a more nuanced, social meaning behind what someone says. Sarcasm, for example, is a mismatch of the words and attitude. We might convey attitude through body language, or tone of voice.

Every person does this – whether they speak or not. Hearing, listening, and understanding happen with or without speech abilities. It is important to remember that not being able to speak does NOT mean that someone doesn’t understand. People who don’t speak often understand more than we think.

A person’s reaction allows us to deduce their ability to understand. We can note how the person follows directions. Can they follow directions that are not part of their regular, practiced routines? We can watch for other indicators – eye gaze, posture, or even breathing. The person may be able to blink their eyes to indicate yes and no.

People generally understand a lot more than they can say. We don’t know how much someone understands if they can’t express. We have to give them the tools to speak. Giving a person a method to communicate has the potential to help further grow receptive skills. The acts of expressing and understanding are interconnected.


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Deepen Your Understanding

Receptive Language is made up of many “sub-skills”

Understanding skills grow as children grow. Receptive language is really made up of many sub-skills and are closely linked with cognitive skills and physical skills. If anyone on these “sub-skills” are weak or slow to develop, it can reduce a child’s overall language skills or rate of development in relation to understanding skills.

Physical skills linked to receptive language

Physical aspects can include the ability to see and hear. Problems hearing what is being said can impact on language without alternative inputs being provided.

Receptive Language Sub-Skills

Receptive language sub-skills include the ability to

  • Understand words (vocabulary skills)
  • Understand concepts (from early concepts such as “big” & “next to” through to high school level of concepts e.g., evolution)
  • Follow instructions and directions
  • Understanding the difference between a question and a statement
  • Understanding the meaning carried by grammatical markers (e.g., “he” refers to male; “is” refers to a single item happening currently)

Other developmental areas to consider when looking at language development in children include:

  • Attention and concentration skills e.g. ADHD. If you are not attending, understanding can be reduced
  • Memory skills e.g. you need to hold an instruction or information in your head in order to understand it.Extracted from: