Keep speech simple too

It’s not just print that needs adapting – even talk can be confusing!

The words we use, the speed we go, the in-between time – all these will influence how much a child understands. Especially the child with delayed or impaired language development.

Some pointers:

  • One assumes simpler vocabulary will make things easy. But sometimes this means words are used which have multiple meanings.

–          An adult might use the word ‘hard’ to mean ‘difficult’ because the word is shorter. However a child may think of this in the sense of how something feels to the touch! What’s wrong with ‘difficult’?

–          Children are very interested in tactile qualities. Plus they learn about materials and the words to describe materials early in the school curriculum. When suddenly asked in the shoe shop – by the assistant who is a stranger – ‘How do they feel?’ it is not surprising if a child is flummoxed! Should he touch the new shoes? An adult knows in this context the word refers to comfort and the correct shoe size.

–          Another word which is a nightmare is ‘right’. It can actually help for children to learn the adjective ‘correct’ because then you can avoid confusing sentences like ‘Start on the left; that’s right!’

–          In numeracy the scope for misunderstanding is unlimited. ‘That leaves…’ – hmm. What leaves would they be? ‘It’s a take-away.’ Would that be Indian or Chinese? ‘Which number is bigger?’ Well, actually they both look the same size to me! ‘You know: 1 and 3: that’s 13.’ Well, last time you told me, it was 4! And so on.

  • Keep sentences short. Short sentences reduce the need for the listener to recall chunks of language to get at meaning. Short sentences usually contain fewer information-carrying-words as well.
  • Monitor your speed of speech – slow down your rate without changing the normal rhythm to help the children process meaning.
  • Leave much, much longer pauses than usual between chunks of information.
  • Similarly, wait much longer than you think necessary for a reply. Don’t prompt too soon. Don’t say it again in a cross voice. Don’t completely revise the sentence structure to ‘help’!
  • Make use of facial expression, gesture, stress, pauses and intonation to pinpoint important words/ideas.
  • Tell the child ahead of time about changes, and repeat the information towards count-down. See if they can tell you what’s going to happen.
  • Try and learn new vocabulary for a topic ahead of the lesson, using illustrated word-lists. Why not send a copy home for reinforcement there. Many adults are not aware of the current topics, the sort of words needed, nor the latest way to refer to things (e.g. the names of geometric solids).
  • Give a short outlines in advance e.g. before going to an assembly, watching a video, listening to a story…
  • Divide teaching content into smaller units.
  • Provide visual learning aids like pictures, writing frames, outlines, diagrams, tables and mind-maps appropriate for the age group. And logical tools for number like an abacus, Numicon or Cuisenaire rods.
  • Don’t expect the children to focus on complex tasks without a foundation! Work up from simpler things and be sure they see the connection to the next idea. Children with language problems do not infer information well! They will not necessarily make the bridge you intended between yesterday’s work and today’s.
  • Checking the child has got the message before he goes wrong is very beneficial. Get him to tell back what it is he has to do. If a verbal child is asked first, others will have heard it from the teacher plus a repeat from a peer!
  • In the whole group situation, the adult has to try to keep tabs on whether particular children are following. Some kids may not think instructions and questions apply to them unless they hear their name first! One boy there is not ‘boys’ or ‘red group’ – only Henry!
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