Pragmatic Language

Is your child having trouble navigating social situations? Does he hang back, or stand too close, or say too much, or the wrong things?

Pragmatic language involves the way we use language socially and practically to navigate our world. We all go through a complex process of figuring out what to say in various social, school, or work situations, and most of us still end up stumped or flustered once in a while. For some children, this is an area of life where they could use some serious help.

Pragmatic language involves three major communication skills:

  • Using language for different purposes, such as greeting, informing, demanding, promising, and requesting
  • Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation, such as speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground
  • Following rules for conversations and storytelling, such as taking turns in a conversation, introducing topics, staying on topic, using verbal and nonverbal signals, standing a certain distance from someone else during a conversation, and using facial expressions and eye contact

A lot of pragmatics comes down to being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, which is not easy for some children, and being able to notice what another person may be feeling.

Pragmatic skills include:

  • Knowing it’s polite to answer when someone has asked you a question
  • Participating in a conversation by taking turns with the other speaker
  • Noticing and responding to the nonverbal aspects of language (body language, etc.)
  • Introducing topics of conversation the other person will share an interest in
  • Knowing how to initiate a conversation or respond to someone else’s initiation
  • Maintaining or appropriately changing a topic, or interrupting politely
  • Maintaining appropriate eye-contact during a conversation
  • Knowing how to talk and behave with a variety of people (formally with some, informally with others)

How can I help my child who needs help with pragmatics?

Here at CTS, we work on how to use language effectively in every session. Depending on the child’s age and needs, we might start addressing pragmatic language use in individual sessions. Often, however, it becomes obvious that we need to involve peers. We facilitate Social Skills groups to help children with using language socially and pragmatically with peers, matching children with appropriate communication partners.