Language adds color and shape to our lives—it’s a major part of how we interact with the world.
This week, we’re going to be exploring the how component of our language skills—as in: how we use language as a tool to connect and interact in our daily lives.
This week, we’re going to take a look at the rules and uses of language for social purposes. Our social language abilities are known as our pragmatic language skills.
We use language for many different purposes, and our pragmatic skills help us to navigate a variety of social situations like a language ninja.
Think about it—do you choose different words when you’re talking to friends vs. your doctor? What about when you’re addressing a group vs. just one person?
Our pragmatic skills help us seamlessly adapt our language to suit any interaction. We may use different words, change our inflection, rate of speech, even the topics we choose.
Pragmatics are also what we lean on to interpret facial expressions and tone of voice. And they inform our use and awareness of eye contact and body language.
Let’s take a look at an inventory of our pragmatic language capabilities, so you can see how we rely on these skills on a daily basis.
What are some examples of pragmatic language skills?
As we mentioned above—our pragmatic language is how we use language for social purposes. We employ these skills to maneuver our way through each day’s interactions.
Pragmatic language skills can be broken down into subcategories, based on use and purpose.
Let’s look at some of these, and explore the pragmatic skills that fit under each umbrella.
Nonverbal Communication Skills
As we’re fond of saying—Communication is bigger than language. This saying is especially apt when it comes to pragmatics. A huge part of what we communicate is delivered through all the nonverbal aspects of our communication. This includes things like—
Picking up on emotions
Nonverbal cues and gestures (like body language)
Noises (nonword sounds that convey meaning)
Spatial relationships (like how close you’re standing to someone when talking)
Expressive Language Skills
We covered expressive language skills extensively in our recent blog post about language. These skills involve how we use language to express ourselves and to get our needs met. From a pragmatic perspective, we use our expressive language skills to accomplish things like—
Speaking clearly so we can be understood
Using varied tone and inflection
Modifying the volume of our voices to fit the situation
Effectively expressing our own internal state in words
Picking up on and using abstract language skills, like sarcasm and metaphors
Maintaining topics in conversation
Understanding listener needs and modifying our language to accommodate them
The ability to hold a conversation is a nuanced and complex skill. Ever tried to have a conversation with a toddler, who’s still learning the finer points of language? It’s tough. That’s because children of this age don’t yet have an understanding of the skills it takes to be a full partner in a conversational exchange.
Our pragmatics inform conversational skills like—
Monitoring and accounting for listener needs and understanding
The ability to choose, maintain, and introduce topics
Providing relevant information
Monitoring our own understanding and asking for clarification if needed
Waiting for acknowledgement (like being called upon in the school setting)
Following changes in topic
One conversational pragmatic language skill we think is super cool is known as code switching.
This is when a person modifies their language, depending on who they're speaking to. It’s something we all do, usually without much conscious thought.
Members of cultural groups communicate very differently with members of their culture than with non-members. We choose different words, slang terms, even change our rate and inflection.
Think about it—I bet your communication style is really different if you're talking to your best friend than when you’re participating in a parent-teacher conference, right?
Code switching is a way we showcase our empathic communication skills, by modifying what we say and how we say it, based on who we’re talking to. It helps ensure our communication is effective and understood. We think it’s a pretty awesome pragmatic language skill.
Speech Convention Skills
We may think our language is so novel, but in reality, we rely a lot on social scripts when we communicate. These are common exchanges and greetings that follow a familiar, rote pattern. They allow us to exchange pleasantries without having to think too much about what we say.
For example, a common social script occurs when we greet someone by saying “Hi. How are you today?” The person replies with “Good. And you?” Sound familiar? I thought so.
“Nice weather we’re having.” “Sure is!”
Social scripts are like a communication shorthand we use to signal we’re friendly. They can also be excellent icebreakers to kick off any communication exchange.
Speech convention skills also include things like talking “to” rather than “at” people, being approachable, asking for assistance, and your ability to introduce yourself.
Interpersonal/Peer Communication Skills
Communication is all about connection, and our pragmatic skills are the glue we use to accomplish this goal.
It’s important to learn how to use pragmatics to effectively communicate with the people we interact with each day. They’re especially important for school-aged kids, who are learning and mastering their pragmatic skills in real time by interacting with their same-aged peers in the school setting.
Some important interpersonal and peer-focused pragmatic skills include—
The ability to establish and maintain friendships
Managing any verbal conflicts
Offering appropriate compliments
Using peer-appropriate slang
Using social greetings and inviting others into peer groups
Negotiating, compromising, and respecting others’ perspectives
It’s easy to see how these skills are crucial in the school setting (as they are in life). School is an important space, offering children many opportunities to learn and practice their pragmatic skills.
Why are pragmatic language skills important?
We humans are social creatures. This has been studied and proven over and over.
Pragmatic skills underpin our ability to socialize with others. They keep us connected and engaged with our world and the people in it.
Without solid pragmatic skills, we can struggle to form deep, lasting relationships. This can lead to isolation and feeling disconnected from our culture, peers, and even from ourselves.
Many children struggle with their pragmatic skill development. Here at The Loop, we’re skilled at assessing and treating children who experience difficulty with the acquisition of these important skills. Our team of highly qualified Speech and Language Pathologists have helped many children improve their awareness and use of pragmatic language skills, in order to help them succeed and thrive in the school setting.
What is a pragmatic language disability?
As you can imagine—pragmatics often prove difficult and elusive communication skills for children to grasp. Because the rules of pragmatic language vary greatly based on culture and peer group, they can be tricky concepts for kids to master.
Kids with autism often struggle with pragmatics, as issues with social skills are a hallmark of this disorder. But pragmatic language issues aren’t limited to children on the ASD spectrum.
Pragmatic language disorders can co-occur with other language disorders in children. They can also be present in isolation—without other language or developmental issues present.
School-aged children who struggle with pragmatics often experience difficulty with—
Effectively sharing their thoughts and feelings with others
Maintaining topics in conversation
Telling stories in an organized way
Understanding listener needs
Asking well-formed questions
Understanding personal space
Developing a rich and varied vocabulary
Knowing what is inappropriate to say during conversations
Grasping abstract language concepts (like metaphors, sarcasm, hyperbole, and similes)
As a result of these issues with social skills, children with pragmatic language disorders often struggle in the school setting with things like—
Making and maintaining close friendships
Feelings of social isolation
Difficulty with expressing and getting their needs met
Trouble taking turns
Interrupting in the classroom
Knowing how to greet and interact with classmates and teachers
Difficulty reading social cues like facial expressions and body language
It’s easy to see how a child with these issues might struggle to succeed in the school setting. And that’s why we work closely with your child’s teacher and school system to address and treat these issues, right in your child’s school.
The good news is—pragmatic skills can be taught, even if they don’t come naturally to your child. Our team of therapists are skilled at providing targeted, individualized therapy that's designed to meet your child’s unique needs and goals.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways we assess and treat pragmatic language issues in the children and families we serve.
How are pragmatic language issues treated?
Here at The Loop, all of our assessments and treatments are selected and designed with your child in mind. We use a whole-person, individualized approach—one that takes into account your child’s unique strengths, struggles, likes, and dislikes.
Following an initial meeting and your agreement to therapy with us, we’ll work with your child's teacher to schedule a time for an evaluation. This will allow us to gain a clearer picture of your child’s needs. It’s also an opportunity to establish rapport with your child, and to find ways to make the therapy experience fun for them.
Interested in learning more about what Speech-Language Pathologists can offer, in general? Check out this recent blog. In it, we cover all things SLP.
We’ll thoroughly assess your child’s ability to understand and use pragmatic language skills. If any areas of deficit exist, we’ll create a plan to target those skills in therapy. Our sessions may take place one-on-one, in a group setting, and in the classroom.
We’ll focus on helping your child understand the rules of social language, and will teach them these skills through interactive tasks, games, stories, and other engaging activities. We’ll assess and track their progress, so that our sessions will always meet your child where they are.
Your child’s therapy with us will be unique and team-centered. You’ll be an essential member of the team, and we welcome your insight and involvement. Our goal is to provide holistic education to your child—both in school and at home. Together, we can help your child learn, thrive, and succeed!
You can check out the many valuable resources and materials we post on theloopsll.com, connect with us on social @TheLoopSLL, or reach out with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S.—We also offer an array of awesome learning support services, in addition to our stellar speech and language therapy services. We’ve got you covered for occupational therapy, learning remediation, and executive function coaching. We’ve also got your back if you need educational consultancy or advocacy.