Pragmatics – helping your child learn the rules of social language

kids-playing-with-a-ballIf you have a child with a developmental or speech delay, you may have heard the term “pragmatics.” It refers to the use of language in a social setting – with friends, at school, and at home. Often, it is not enough that a child learns grammar and vocabulary in order to communicate. He also needs to understand how these words come together in social language.

A child struggling with pragmatics may use few words to express himself or seem disorganized in the way he speaks. He may have a hard time taking turns in conversation, or make inappropriate comments. As he gets older, he may be able to learn to read (sound out and pronounce words), but may not understand what he is reading. Usually a difficulty with pragmatics is not diagnosed until a child is at least four or five years old, and sometimes it is not identified until years later.

The following information is from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

Pragmatics involve three major communication skills

Using language for different purposes, such as

  • greeting (e.g., hello, goodbye)
  • informing (e.g., I’m going to get a cookie)
  • demanding (e.g., Give me a cookie)
  • promising (e.g., I’m going to get you a cookie)
  • requesting (e.g., I would like a cookie, please)

Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation, such as

  • talking differently to a baby than to an adult
  • giving background information to an unfamiliar listener
  • speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground

Following rules for conversations and storytelling, such as

  • taking turns in conversation
  • introducing topics of conversation
  • staying on topic
  • rephrasing when misunderstood
  • how to use verbal and nonverbal signals
  • how close to stand to someone when speaking
  • how to use facial expressions and eye contact

If you are concerned about your child’s use of language, speak with his health care provider. It may be beneficial to have a specialist, such as a speech and language pathologist, test your child and provide appropriate therapy. If your child is three years old or older, he may qualify for services through your local school district. See this post to learn how to ask for a free evaluation.

To help your child use language appropriately in social settings, see the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Pragmatic Language Tips.

To learn more about social communication disorders, see this article by Understood.

Have questions?  Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org

 

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