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Social Language Skills


Pragmatics is a term that means “effectiveness of verbal and non-verbal communication in social contexts.”  Pragmatics includes not only the ideas a child wishes to express, but how it is said, the intentions of the speaker, the relationship between the speaker and listener, and the cultural expectations of the situation.  Many of these social rules are unspoken.

Children with pragmatic language difficulties may have great trouble using language in ways that are appropriate for their age or for the setting.  Young children may not understand that they should pay attention to things that interest their communication partner.  They might not know how to show others about their interests.  They might not show a lot of facial expressions.  They might not seek social interaction, or they may not know how to engage others or to show that they enjoy interaction.  They may appear to be more interested in toys than in people.

Even if they are talkative, children with pragmatic language difficulties might not understand how to use their words and gestures effectively.  For example, they may not understand that we take turns to talk.  They may interrupt a speaker or respond with inappropriate silences.  They may not wait their turn to talk, shift topics abruptly, or talk about irrelevant subjects.  They may assume that everyone who listens to them knows the same people and events that they do.  They might not be aware of non-verbal cues that show their listener is confused, not interested, or uncomfortable.  They may not understand rules for interpersonal space, appropriate amount of eye contact, body language, facial expressions, or emotional content of the communicative exchange.

Please refer to Pragmatic Language Development Chart Below:

Birth to 3 Months

Briefly looks at people
Follows moving person with eyes
Quiets in response to sound
Responds more readily to speech than non-speech sounds
Smiles/coos in response to another smile/voice (1-4 months)
Becomes excited when caregiver approaches (1-4 months)
Aware of strangers and unfamiliar situations (1-4 months)
Cries differently when tired, hungry, or in pain
Quiets when picked up

3 to 6 months

Fixes gaze on faces
Prefers to look at faces than objects
Regularly localizes sounds/speaker
Occasionally vocalizes in response to speech
Enjoys being played with

6 to 9 months

Initiates vocalizing to another person
Tries to get you to pay attention to him
Enjoys playing with people more than playing with toys
Shows that he knows what will happen next in a familiar social game
Has different vocalizations for different states: hunger, anger, contentment
Looks when you call her name
Looks at things when you name them or point to them
Recognizes familiar people
Cries when caregiver leaves the room
Imitates familiar sounds and actions

9 to 12 months

Shouts to attract attention
Shakes head "no" and pushes things away
Waves "bye"
Affectionate to familiar people
Begins directing others' behavior physically and through gestures (pats, pulls, tugs on adult)
Using pointing to ask the names of things and to learn new vocabulary
Uses 2-3 words besides "mama" and "dada"
Extends arms to be picked up
Participates in games such as "peek-a-boo" and "pat-a-cake"
Reaches to request an object
Begins to vary behavior according to the emotional reactions of others; repeats actions that are laughed at
Participates in vocal play with expression

12 to 18 months

Brings object to show an adult
Asks for attention vocally, physically, or with a word
Asks you to play with him if you're doing something else
Says a few conversation ritual words such as "hi," "bye," "thank you," "please"
Protests by saying "no," shaking head, frowning, and pushing objects away
Requests objects by pointing and vocalizing or possibly using a word
Asks for action or assistance with gestures (hand toy to adult for adult to make it go again)
Comments on something by directing listener's attention to it with pointing and vocalization, or word
Labels objects
Answers simple why questions with a vocal response (may not be understandable)
Acknowledges speech of another by giving eye contact, vocally responding, or by repeating words
Plays with toys the way they're meant to be used

18 to 24 months

Expresses the intentions listed at the 12-18 month level by using words or short phrases
Names objects in front of others
Says, "What's that?" to elicit attention
Begins using single words and two-word phrases to command, indicate possession, and express problems
Much verbal turn-taking

2-3 years

Engages in short dialogues
Verbally introduces and changes topic of discussion
Expresses emotion
Begins using language in imaginative ways
Begins providing descriptive details to help listener understand
Uses attention-getting words such as, "hey"
Clarifies and requests clarification
Begins telling "stories," which may be a collection of unrelated ideas or sequences

3-4 years

Engages in longer dialogues
Assumes the role of another person in play
Takes another person's perspective
Uses more fillers to acknowledge partner's message (uh-huh, ok)
Begins using simpler language when talking to very young children
Requests permission
Begins using language for fantasies, jokes, teasing
Makes conversational repairs when listener has not understood/provides explanations
Corrects others
Tells simple stories
Uses inferences in stories
Topic maintenance for three turns
Requests more information to keep a conversation going
Appropriate eye contact
Terminates conversation appropriately
Uses indirect requests/hints to get listener to do something
Gives information/queries to insure that the listener has background information

5 to 6 years

Uses indirect requests
Correctly uses terms that differ depending on speaker and listener's location: this, that, there, here
Regularly uses effective sentences to discuss emotions and feelings
Tells stories with clear sequences but not necessarily a central character or theme
Tells a story by looking at pictures
Tells familiar stories without pictures for help
Describes functions of objects
Communicates cause-and-effect relationships
Provides information that is relevant to the listener
Matches their queries to a listeners interests to maintain a conversation
Sustains a topic for 4 conversation turns
Communicates knowledge about the world to peers and adults
States a problem
Responds appropriately to questions involving time concepts
Will answer/ask "where," "when," "why," "how many," "what do you do?" "why do we?"
Asks permission to use others' belonging
Recognizes another's need for help and provides assistance