Social Language or “Pragmatics”

Your child may not know how to use language appropriately in social situations. This undeveloped social skill can cause your child to unintentionally say harmful or rude comments to others. Even when able to say words clearly in complex sentences with correct grammar, a child still may have a communication problem – if he or she has not mastered the rules for social language known as pragmatics.

Speaking head

Pragmatics includes three major communication skills:

  1. Using language for different purposes, such as
    • greeting (e.g., Hello, goodnight)
    • informing (e.g., I’m going to go to bed now.)
    • demanding (e.g., Turn out the lights, please.)
    • promising (e.g., I’m going to wake up early and make waffles.)
    • requesting (e.g., I would like an extra blanket.)
  2. Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation, such as
    • speaking differently to a toddler than to an adult, or with a sibling vs. a teacher
    • sharing background information with an unfamiliar listener
    • speaking differently in a movie theater than on a playground
  3. Following rules for conversations, such as
    • turn taking
    • introducing a topic of conversation
    • staying on topic
    • rephrasing when misunderstood
    • using verbal and nonverbal signals
    • knowing how closely to stand to others
    • using appropriate facial expressions and eye contact

Remember: It is important to understand the rules of your communicative situation.

An individual with pragmatic problems may:

  • say inappropriate or unrelated things during a conversation
  • tell stories in a disorganized way
  • have little variety in language use

Important: Pragmatic problems can lower one’s social acceptance, while peers may avoid having conversations with an individual who has a pragmatic disorder.

Pragmatic Language Tips:

Parents, caregivers, families, and teachers can help children use language appropriately in social situations. The following examples can help a child learn how to use language for different purposes:

Respond to the intended message rather than correcting the articulation or grammar. Provide appropriate models in your own speech. For example, if a child says, “That’s how it doesn’t work,” respond, “Right. That’s not how it works.”

Take advantage of naturally occurring situations. For example, practice greetings at the beginning of the day, or have the child request from a teacher the necessary materials to complete a project.

Role-play conversations. Pretend to talk to different people in different situations. For example, set up a situation (or use one that occurs during the day) in which the child has to explain the same thing to different people, such as teaching the rules of a sport, or telling how to check out a book from the library. Model how the child should talk to a child versus an adult, or a sibling versus someone he just met.

Encourage the use of persuasion. For example, ask the child what she would say to convince a family member to let her borrow something valuable. Discuss different ways to present a message:

  1. Polite (“Please, may I go to the party?”), versus impolite (“You better take me to the party!”)
  2. Indirect (“That music is loud”), versus direct (“Turn off the stereo!”)

Comment on the topic of conversation before introducing a new topic. Add related information to encourage talking more about a particular topic.

Provide visual cues such as pictures, objects, or a story outline to help tell a story in sequence.

Encourage rephrasing or revising an unclear word or sentence. Provide an appropriate revision by asking, “Did you mean…?”

Model and explain how nonverbal signals are important to communication. For example, talk about what happens when a facial expression does not match the emotion expressed in a verbal message (e.g., speaking angry words while smiling).

Adapted from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website—“Making effective communication a human right, accessible and achievable for all.”

By Cindy Forey, MA/CCC-SLP

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3 thoughts on “Social Language or “Pragmatics”

  1. Thank you for all the time you spent making this site and teachings available to us, the families who are new to this and wish we had known so many of the things we are just now learning. Please don’t give up even though you don’t the credit nd more that you all really deserve. One day we hope you’re truly rewarded.

    Thank you again,
    Rosanna and family.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. Jennifer started Aspergers101 with the purest intentions of simply helping those in need, and creating a community of support. We are so happy to know that it is fulfilling its purpose. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you might have, and we would be more than happy to address them in future articles.