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 and wonderful co-workers, and I’ll share what I have learned so far with you. 

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

When I worked 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 more complex that that. There are many aspects to social language that lie beneath the surface.

For example, saying “hi” isn’t just saying “hi.” A child says “hi” differently depending on his/her communication partners (friends, teachers, parents). Some times it‘s socially acceptable to wave to friends and sometimes it is acceptable to say “hi” with a hug but this will depend on the level of the friendship and the comfortable level of the communication partner.

You are getting the idea...right?!

To add another layer, there are the goals of the student. Some students WANT to make friends and some would rather be alone. 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:

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
  • 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 completely depend on the social situation.

Some children with pragmatic language difficulties KNOW what they are supposed to do, but can’t carry out the activity in an actual situation.

The other factors to consider are:

  • Is the child having trouble socializing with friends or does he/she 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?

How to Help Pragmatic Language

There is NO COOKIE cutter program for this area of language. Treatment depends on the 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 language areas are always needed to function in society!



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. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series



› Pragmatic Language