American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Pragmatic Language Tips

Parents, cargivers, families, and teachers can help individuals use language appropriately in social situations (pragmatics). Some general suggestions to help develop skills in three major pragmatic areas are listed below.

Using Language for Different Purposes

Ask questions or make suggestions to use language for different purposes:

Desired Language Function Suggested Question or Comment
Comment "What did you do?"
"Tell me about..."
Request "Tell your friend..."
"What do you want?"
Question "Ask me"

Respond to the intended message rather than correcting the pronunciation or grammar. Be sure to provide an appropriate model in your own speech. For example, if an individual says, "That's how it doesn't go," respond, "You're right. That's not how it goes."

Take advantage of naturally occurring situations. For example, practice greetings at the beginning of a day, or have the individual ask peers what they want to eat for dinner or request necessary materials to complete a project.

Changing Language for Different Listeners or Situations

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 course of a day) in which the individual has to explain the same thing to different people, such as teaching the rules of a game, or how to make a cake. Model how the person should talk to a child versus an adult, or a family member versus a friend of the family.

Encourage the use of persuasion. For example, ask the person what he or she would say to convince family members or loved ones to let him or her do something. Discuss different ways to present a message:

  • Polite ("Please may I go to the party?") versus impolite ("You better let me go")
  • Indirect ("That music is loud") versus direct ("Turn off the radio")
  • Discuss why some requests would be more persuasive than others

Conversation and Storytelling Skills

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...?"

Show 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., using angry words while smiling).

To contact a speech-language pathologist, visit ASHA's Find a Professional.

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