Quick Guide: Pragmatic Language

pragmatic-photo

by Rena Dadolf, M.S., CCC-SLP and Theresa Menz, M.S., CCC-SLP

We’re hearing a lot these days about Pragmatic Language Disorders…

The first question many teachers and parents have is “What is Pragmatic Language?”

Pragmatics is the understanding and use of language in social situations – in other words, successfully having conversations with other people.

Pragmatic skills involve understanding and using nonverbal skills such as body language as well as what we say, how we say it, and the appropriateness of what we say.

Pragmatic skills are vital for communicating our personal thoughts, ideas and feelings. Children with pragmatic language weakness may misinterpret others’ communicative intent and have difficulty responding appropriately verbally or non-verbally. Conversation skills are often weak and children with this disorder may not engage in the back and forth fluid flow of questioning, answering, and commenting that comes so naturally to most of us.

Pragmatic Language Skills:

  1. Using language for different functions: greeting, informing, requesting
  2. Changing your language based on the needs of the person you are talking to:
    • Speaking differently in the library than on a playground
    • Giving background information
    • Talking differently to a baby than an adult
  3. Following Conversation Rules:
    • Taking turns in conversation
    • Staying on topic
  4. Rephrasing when misunderstood
  5. Using appropriate facial expressions and eye contact
  6. Understanding how to take another person’s perspective

While all children need to be taught these skills, children with pragmatic language weaknesses need explicit instruction involving these skills. The use of visual supports, practice, and role play are key. Contact your school’s speech-language pathologist to learn more!

The Matching Game: How to Pair Your Language to Meet A Student’s Developmental Level

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Photo By Clementina – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11229108

Written by: Sarah Michaels, Heather Miller, Phyllis Norwood, Heather Petrusa, Amy Samuels

Have you ever asked a child a question or given directions only to be met with a blank stare?  You may have a child in your classroom with language that is 1-2 years below what is expected for kids that age.  Therefore, it is important that you know how to reduce the verbal demands so students understand and can respond to you at their level.  Here are eight suggestions for matching your language to meet students at their level:

  • Provide extended wait time.  Some kids need (an excruciating) 5-10+ seconds to respond.  Students may need time to process auditory/verbal input or formulate their response.  Wait and watch.
  • Give students advanced notice that they will be called on.  Let them know when their turn will be and what will be expected so they have time to formulate a response.
  • Say less!  Speak one word beyond the child’s ability.  If a child only uses single words (e.g., ball),  then speak in 2 word phrases (e.g., blue ball; ball please).  If a child is using phrases, then speak in simple sentences.  For kids using longer utterances, consider your vocabulary and syntax.  Re-phrase using simpler vocabulary and sentence structure.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat.   Repeat and rephrase your statements to give students time to process what you’ve said.  Also slow down and repeat instructions as needed.  Additionally, repeating and rephrasing what the child says helps to build comprehension and retention.
  • Provide fill-in cues.  Reduce the expectation for the student’s response (especially in large group settings).  Start the statement and let the child finish the sentence using 1-3 words.  For example, if you ask, “Where was the boy?” then say “The boy was ___” with the expectation that the student fills in “under” or “under the table.”
  • Use pictures and gestures.  Pictures help support expressive and receptive language.  They can reduce the need for a lot of verbal input and get to the point faster for some kids.  Some children process visual information better than auditory information.  Refer to pictures in books, use a picture schedule, wear small pictures on a lanyard for frequently used directions and routines (e.g., sit, listen, wash hands, line up, etc.).  Don’t worry about what the icon looks like (clipart, stock photos, Boardmaker, etc.), just be consistent with each image.
  • Give choices.  Provide verbal or picture choices to narrow the wide open field of responses to 2 or 3.
  • Remember to praise any response a student gives! Repeating their response also allows for additional processing and retention of information.

It’s important for you to know your students’ language levels and to know how to match your language to meet the child at their level.  For more information, talk to your school-based speech-language pathologist.