Understanding and using language involves a wide range of abilities. Being aware of word sounds, pronouncing words, understanding syntax, building sentences, and telling stories are just some of the skills that are part of language.
Processing language has two sides: input (or receptive language) and output (or expressive language). Language input takes forms like listening and reading, while output is usually speaking and writing. Language can also be broken down into different levels of components parts, which build on one another. For example, to be effective with language we have to process the sounds of letter combinations, individual words, sentences and multi-sentence passages. All of these represent areas in which you may have strengths or challenges.
Being good at language is usually important to success in school. But remember, understanding an idea is very different from being able to put it into words. People also succeed in the world if they can think without language, picture things, build and create, and understand how things work.
Learning that involves language also frequently draws on parts of memory, attention, and complex thinking.
Click on the following links to further explore the two sides of language:
Receptive Language: Understanding Written and Spoken Information
Expressive Language: Communicating Ideas through Writing and Speaking
Learn more

  • Written for general audiences, Maryanne Wolf’s book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Harper Perennial, 2008) offers a fascinating look at how humans developed the ability to read.
  • The Brain from Top to Bottom  is an extremely cool website that looks at a variety of brain and human behavior topics (including language) through different lenses, from broad (social) to very narrow (molecular). Viewers can also choose the level at which the content is presented (from beginner to advanced).
  • Nurture Shock authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman offer seven tips for helping toddlers develop language skills.   
  • The All Kinds of Minds Parent Toolkit offers deeper insight on helping students who struggle with reading and writing. Both sections include short interactive activities that simulate what a reading or writing task is like for a student with challenges in language.

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