Language development pyramid

BY: Josephine Ohenewa Bampoe
Filed photo
Filed photo

Communication refers to all means by which information is transmitted between a sender and a receiver.

Often when people think about communication, they think about talking and listening. The language pyramid shows the skills needed before children begin to talk.

It is often used by speech and language therapists to explain difficulties children have in communication development and the rationale for the choice of intervention/support.

Skills at the bottom have to be in place before the skills on top can be developed.

Before children learn to talk there is the need to develop their early communication skills.

These skills, including eye contact, pointing and turn taking, are the foundations of speech, language and communication development and considered necessary for communication development in general.

Attention, listening skills

Attention skills need to be developed before children learn to understand words and learn to talk. They begin attending to people, then objects and being able to share their attention between people and objects (shared/joint attention).

Attention skills help children to learn names of objects and how to communicate.

Listening skills go beyond hearing. A child may be able to hear words but may not listen for meaning. Listening skills refer to hearing words and thinking about them. These skills help children to be able to recognise the sounds that make up words and sentences in order to use words and sentences appropriately themselves.

Play is a prerequisite for the development of early communication skills. Because play is fun for children, it is a great opportunity for them to learn important information about life such as names of objects, actions and people.

Play can help to expand a child’s speech and language skills.

Understanding/receptive language

This refers to the ability to process and understand what is said, including the ability to understand vocabulary (such as names of objects, actions), concepts (colours, sizes, shapes, same/different, location – in, on, under, behind, below) as well as following sequences of instructions and understanding a narrative or a story.

Being able to make inferences from information given and understanding non-literal language such as idioms, proverbs, make up higher level receptive skills.

Difficulty understanding language is a barrier to learning and developing new skills and affects forming friendships.

Expressive language

Expressive language refers to the ability to use language to convey a message. This can be verbally or through Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC).

AAC is an umbrella term to describe various means of communication that can add to or provide an alternative to verbal language, including signs, gestures, vocalisations and ipad.

It involves using vocabulary appropriately, putting words together to make meaningful phrases and sentences.


Speech refers to the sounds we make. This involves our ability to produce sounds clearly and correctly in our words and sentences for the listener to hear and be able to make sense of it.

Difficulties with any of these skills will impact on communication. Speech and language therapists assess these skills to identify where the difficulties are and offer interventions.

Early intervention is key. Seek help now if you are concerned about your child’s language development.

The writer is a Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor,
University of Ghana/Korle Bu Teaching Hospital.