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Posted 2nd August, 2017 by Sue Partridge

Could not retrieve telephone-number, Could not retrieve telephone-number,

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What is the difference between receptive vocabulary and expressive vocabulary?

Discuss this in relation to both speaking & listening and reading & writing.

by Julie Baister

In terms of definitions, Receptive language skills are the ability to understand information. This involves understanding words, sentences and the meaning of what others say or what is read.

Expressive language skills are the ability to put thoughts into words and sentences, in a way that makes sense and is grammatically accurate.

At the vocabulary level, Receptive Vocabulary refers to all the words that can be understood by a person, including spoken, written, or even manually signed words.

In contrast, Expressive Vocabulary refers to the words that a person can express or produce, for example, by speaking or writing them in a grammatically acceptable manner.

From these definitions, already it can be seen that links occur between both receptive and expressive vocabulary and in addition that they have an impact upon performance across the range of literacy skills, which we currently categorise as speaking & listening and reading & writing. However, these are the very skills which are most often problematic in dyslexic learners and poor performance in these areas is often an indicator that Specific Learning Difficulty is present.

In terms of our roles how is this likely to affect our students?

Difficulty with visual processing may mean that words are confused/ misread and this can affect comprehension.

Poor phonological awareness impacts upon reading and spelling unfamiliar words that have not been learnt by sight.

When these visual and phonological skills are well developed it opens the way for higher level understanding and the application of semantic and grammatical knowledge. When difficulties are present in one or both of these two areas, it gets in the way of fluent reading and the ability to spell new words.

Jones and Kindersley (2013)  point out that reading is much more than just recognising single words as it involves gaining meaning from the text. The elements involved in reading include: vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, inference skills based on context, prediction about what comes next and a degree of general knowledge to check for meaning and sense. J&K add that good spoken skills and the ability to use context to self – correct can compensate for poor word recognition. However time pressure obviously has an effect on this. They go as far as to suggest that delay in developing phonological skills might have an effect and prevent efficient higher level literacy skills and this includes well – structured writing.

Whilst a student may have good subject knowledge or inspiration for a piece of work, it may lack fluency, the spelling and grammar may be poor and it may be a tedious process.

In situations where speaking and listening are involved some of the difficulties already mentioned can cause students to avoid communicating as retrieval of appropriate words is difficult.

Conclusions Concerning the Relationship Between Oral Language Skills and Reading Achievement. Overall, research examining the relationship between oral language skills and reading comprehension generally indicates that vocabulary knowledge is related to reading comprehension performance. Listening comprehension skills, however, appear to have a stronger relationship with reading comprehension performance.


Some background reading:

Braze et al (2007) Speaking Up for Vocabulary: Reading Skill Differences in Young Adults

Jones, A. and Kindersley, K. (2013)  Dyslexia: Assessing and Reporting 2nd Edition: The Patoss guide. London, Hodder Education

McShane, S. (2005) [online] Applying research in reading instruction for adults. First steps for teachers, Washington DC, National Institute for Literacy [accessed 3 June 2017], especially Chapter 6.

Wise et al (2007) The Relationship Among Receptive and Expressive Vocabulary, Listening Comprehension, Pre-Reading Skills, Word Identification Skills, and Reading Comprehension by Children With Reading Disabilities

[accessed 3 June 2017]

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