Pragmatic Language Skills

I’ll be completely honest here….this has been a huge learning curve for me! I’ve been learning from my students as well as wonderful co-workers and I’ll share with you my take on pragmatic language skills.

The actual definition of pragmatic language is the social use of language.

When I started working in schools, I thought...yeah, I know pragmatic language. I just need to teach kids how to say hi, use eye contact, and answer questions. Done!

Well….it is a bit more complex that that. There are many aspects to social language that lie beneath the surface.

For example, saying hi is just saying “hi.” A child says “hi” differently depending on their communication partners (friends, teachers, parents). Some times it is socially acceptable to wave to friends and sometimes is is acceptable to say “hi” with a hug but this will depend on the level of the friendship and the comfortable level of your communication partner.

You are getting the idea...right?!

Then, to add a layer...there are the goals of the student. Some students WANT to make friendships and some would rather be alone. This true for all people on this earth. This is a personal choice and both are okay. It is important not to put our social goals on to our students. 

Okay, let’s breakdown the areas of pragmatic language:

We, humans, use language for many social purposes such as:

  • Greeting others
  • Asking/answering questions
  • Requesting/Asking
  • Giving information
  • Making appropriate jokes
  • Participating in conversations
  • Asking questions
  • Maintaining topics
  • Answering questions
  • Making comments
  • Telling stories
  • Recognizing when listeners misunderstood and rephrase
  • Recognizing if listeners are bored
  • Stopping to answer questions
  • Allowing others to participate

These are just a few areas of pragmatic language. The tricky part about pragmatics is that they can’t be tested with a paper and pencil. Pragmatic language skills are completely dependent on the social situation.

Some children with pragmatic language difficulties KNOW what they are suppose to do like, you should say “hi” to someone who says “hi” to you, but can’t carry out the activity in an actual situation.

The other factors to consider are….

  • Is the child haven’t trouble socializing with friends or does he/she just not have the language skills to understand the conversation (receptive language deficit)?
  • Is the child wanting to answer a question but doesn’t have the vocabulary needed to do so (expressive language deficit)?
  • Does the child want to have friends but his attention is so short, so he has trouble engaging in games?

This is where I'm learning like crazy. Check back soon for our assessment page for more tips!

How to Help Pragmatic Language

This is NO COOKIE cutter program for this area of language. It depends on your child's skills, goals, and language abilities.

It is always a good rule of thumb to model:

  • Basic social skills
  • Personal body awareness
  • Turn taking
  • Asking questions

These areas are needed to function in society!

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› Pragmatic Language



Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference.

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