How do you know where to stand when having a conversation? Who taught you to change your voice when talking to a principal or a baby? When did you learn about conversational turn-taking? These innate skills come naturally to some; however, others struggle with what is commonly referred to as pragmatic language. Pragmatics, expressive (or spoken) language, and receptive (or the understanding of) language comprise the three tiers of language. Pragmatic language can be thought of as the “rules of language,” and it is a group of skills some children need to learn, much like reading and writing.
WHAT ARE THE RULES OF LANGUAGE?
- Using Language: We use language to greet one another (e.g., “Hi, how was your day?”), to inform or explain important facts (e.g., “I’m hungry”), and to request or make wants/needs known (e.g., “Can I have the iPad?”). Children will quickly learn that using language can be helpful to get wants/needs met, while yelling/screaming will not produce the same results.
- Changing Language: It is important to alter our language depending on environment and audience. Children will adjust their message depending on their needs, the needs of their communicative partner, the age of their partner (e.g., talking to a baby differently than talking to your principal), and based on their environment (e.g., yelling on the playground is acceptable, but yelling in the classroom is not).
- Following the Rules: Understanding the rules of conversation can be just as important as the message itself. Children will learn that we take turns in conversation and that it is important to wait for the right time to ask questions/make comments. During conversations it is important to stay on topic, read both verbal and non-verbal cues, and to understand personal space boundaries.
Children struggling with the rules of language may benefit from direct instruction on how to engage others in a social setting or how to participate in a conversation. The extent to which children follow the rules will relate to their success in a social setting. With so many things to think about during social interactions, it’s no wonder that some children struggle! If any of the aforementioned components sound like your child, a licensed speech-language pathologist can help!