Alongside their mand training, children are also taught to listen to and understand language. This is known as receptive language. Starting with ‘favoured’ receptive instructions such as ‘Eat some ice-cream!’, ‘Go play with your cars!’ (if the child likes cars), ‘Jump on the trampoline!’ etc, the child learns that listening can potentially be as motivating and functional as requesting the things you want (“manding”). 

Gradually, less-favoured (yet equally important) receptive skills, motor imitation and (if possible) vocal imitation tasks are added to the programme. These are some of the tools that we typically use when we learn. Not only are VB learners learning to communicate, they are learning to learn. A child who cannot imitate what they see their peers doing will not be able to learn how to play football, chase, or any other game simply by watching what others are doing. 

Similarly, a learner who cannot imitate another person’s language will certainly not be able to pick up any expressive language in an incidental or observational way (and it is through imitation of others that we all tend to learn language at a young age). Skinner calls vocal imitation the “Echoic” operant, and non-vocal imitation the “Mimetic” operant). More importantly, it is almost impossible to teach a child to vocally mand if they cannot imitate what they hear, as there is no easy way to physically prompt a child to talk. Any level of basic speech ability that a learner might have is developed through a tightly structured vocal development programme. The programme targets the coordination of the oral and vocal musculature, and moves children through from their ability to imitate basic speech sounds, to basic words, and on to chains of words (sentences). For learners who have particular difficulty in this area, augmentative communication systems such as sign language or PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) are chosen to assist them in using their language. Unfortunately, not all learners affected by developmental delays have the potential to talk. 

Once learners consistently demonstrate an ability to use their communication functionally through the mand, more complex language functions are introduced to their programme. Expressively, they are taught to start labeling and commenting on the world around them. Skinner called this type of language the “Tact” operant. Learners now learn not just to ask for the things that they want, but to talk about the things that motivate them, even if they are not available. Receptively, they are also taught to start responding to increasingly complex language, increasing their understanding of what others are telling them.