When most people think about language, they think about words and grammar – the content of what we communicate and the form we communicate it in.
But there’s a third aspect of language that’s just as important: how we use language in the real world. Way back in 1978, Bloom & Lahey published a handy framework to remind us of these three important aspects of language:
The use of language is also called “pragmatics” or “social language“. Delays or disorders in the use of language can cause problems with:
- conversations and social interaction: e.g. poor listening, an inability to start or end a conversation, or to keep a conversation going, poor turn-taking, inappropriate or irrelevant questioning and responses; an inability to fix conversations when something goes wrong; and an inability to switch styles in different settings (e.g. playground vs principal; or workplace v pub);
- the way we talk: e.g. speaking too loudly or quietly, speaking too quickly or slowly, mumbling or stumbling over words, or speaking in a monotone or over-excited voice;
- body language: e.g. poor eye contact, poor facial expressions, poor hand gesturing, standing too close to others, inappropriate touching, fidgeting, poor posture and personal appearance; and
- assertiveness: being too passive or aggressive in expressing feelings, standing up for yourself, making suggestions, refusing, disagreeing, complaining, apologising and requesting explanations.
As with form and content, most people pick up the rules of how to use language automatically by interacting with others. But some children and adults with language disorders or delays may have difficulties understanding and applying the rules. They may not be able to pick up on the cues that tell us what others are thinking. They may have difficulties integrating language and different social contexts. They may not be able to generate inferences from situations, understand idioms or metaphors, or tell jokes and stories.
A lack of social language skills can have devastating effects on a person’s quality of life, participation, learning and work. Speech-language pathologists are trained to assess social language skills; and to help people with social language problems by explicitly teaching them the skills they need to use language in the settings most important to them.
Hi there, I’m David Kinnane.
Principal Speech Pathologist, Banter Speech & Language
Our talented team of certified practising speech pathologists provide unhurried, personalised and evidence-based speech pathology care to children and adults in the Inner West of Sydney and beyond, both in our clinic and via telehealth.