This is an excerpt from my book, Language Lessons: From Listening Skills to Conversation (available in PDF or Kindle format).
The ultimate purpose of language is to communicate. The ability to communicate well has many components, including auditory memory and comprehension, syntax or grammar, vocabulary, and processing spoken language and formulating a reply. Non-verbal actions are also part of the communication process. All of these skills are pulled together into language usage in the area of "pragmatics." Children who have trouble relating appropriately to others may have difficulty in this area. They may not answer questions or carry on conversations in a socially acceptable manner. They may talk too much or jump from one topic to another inappropriately. They may not have picked up on the expected social responses to phrases such as "thank-you" or "How are you?" Typically, children absorb the usage and nuances of communication with others without a lot of specialized instruction. But if they do not, specific behaviors and responses must be taught one by one.
Does your child…
· make eye contact when speaking and listening to others?
· respond to questions?
· ask questions and wait the answers?
· stay on topic in conversation?
· share the conversation rather than monopolizing it?
· exhibit turn-taking skills in conversation?
· use appropriate voice volume levels?
Can your child…
· answer the questions, "How are you?", "What is your name?" or "Do you like to _______?"
· give the appropriate response to "thank-you?", "good-bye," or "hi?"
· answer questions about a favorite book or TV show?
· ask for help when needed?
· listen to a speaker attentively?
· express his feelings when he is sad, happy, hungry, or angry?
· politely ask for what he wants rather than giving commands?
· give a compliment?
· politely ask the speaker to repeat something that he didn't hear or understand the first time?
Here are some ideas for practicing pragmatic language skills with your child:
Practice "mirroring." Make facial expressions or strike poses and have your child imitate you. Then let the child have a turn leading.
Make facial expressions. See if your child can identify the emotion (sad, excited, angry) that you are displaying.
Practice conversations while your child thinks about facing the speaker and making eye contact.
Identify skills (including those in the above list) that your child needs to learn. Have conversations to specifically practice those responses and behaviors.
Play act different scenarios to let your child practice responding appropriately. ("I'm so sad. My dog just died." "Guess, what? We're going to Disney World!" "I am angry at you.")
Say a sentence for your child to repeat. Have him say it in a monotone, then repeat it, using a lot of expression. You may need to model the intonation for him.
When your child uses a vague phrase, such as, "Where is that stuff?," model a more descriptive sentence, such as "Where is the toothpaste?"
Contrast loud and soft voices. Have your child learn to monitor his volume levels by saying something loudly, then softly. Talk about appropriate voice use in different settings. You may want to develop a nonverbal cue to give him when he needs a reminder.
Play board games to practice turn-taking.
Pass an object back and forth during a conversation. Only the person holding the object may speak. This helps the child alternate between listening and responding. This technique can be helpful with children who interrupt. It can also be a useful way to illustrate the need to ask a question or make a statement that encourages the other person to respond and keep the conversation going.
Have your child think of two questions he could ask in response to each statement.
· I made $35 at my lemonade stand last Saturday!
· My birthday is next week.
· I just got back from the doctor's office and he put my arm in a cast.
· My sister took me to the movies last night.
· I just got a new puppy!
· I am so mad at Jerry!
· I am taking swimming lessons.
· I really like school.
· I am going to the beach next month.
Ask your child to restate each command or remark in polite way.
· Give me a cookie! (May I have a cookie, please?)
· Don't touch me!
· Wear your hat.
· Give me some money for lunch.
· Close the door!
· I want a new toy.
· Your clothes are a mess!
· You never share.
· This room looks like a pigsty.
Teach your child how to apologize by saying, "I'm sorry. Will your forgive me?" or whatever phrase you prefer. Play act various scenes to let him practice responding.
Use play phones to practice making phone calls to these places. Help your child plan what to say before each call.
· the library—Find out the hours of operation
· pizza restaurant—Order a pizza.
· grocery store—Ask if they have Cheerios in stock.
· a friend—Invite him or her over for dinner.
· your mother—Ask her to pick you up from swimming lessons at 3:30.
· a neighbor—Tell her that her dog is loose.
· the doctor--Make an appointment.