By Alice Thomas and Glenda Thorne
When one or the other of the two systems of language, receptive or expressive, has a “short-circuit” or “wiring” breakdown, then the system doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. It’s as if someone has messed up the wires of the phone so that only incoming phone calls can be received, and outgoing calls cannot be made, or just the opposite. How does a teacher or parent know when one of these systems is not working properly for a child/student? Here are some sure fire general “red flags:”
GENERAL RED FLAGS
- The student says that the teacher is always talking too fast.
- The student gets mixed up when he hears multi-step instructions, or states frequently that the instructions are too complicated.
- The first things a student asks when the teacher assigns a book report is, “How many pages do I have to read?” and/or “How long does the report have to be?”
- A student can do math quite well until it comes to word problems.
- A student has problems with sounding out new words or remembering what words mean.
- It is hard for a student to put his ideas in writing.
- A student knows what he wants to say; he just cannot get the words out.
- A student wishes that the teacher would not call on him to give an oral answer or to read out loud.
Some Signs of Receptive Language Problems
- Having trouble following oral directions
- Needing oral directions repeated or rephrased
- Problems understanding questions
- Difficulty concentrating in verbal settings, but not in other settings
- Delayed in acquiring decoding skills
- Poor reading comprehension past the 4th grade in spite of having a good sight vocabulary
- Trouble learning a foreign language
Some Signs of Expressive Language Problems
- Being non-verbal (doesn’t talk much)
- Excessive use of simple, declarative sentences or incomplete sentences
- Hesitant or slow speech
- Excessive use of pause words such as ummm, you know, like, etc.
- Poor use of words that tie things together such as first, next, then, but, and finally
- Lack of verbal participation in conversations and classroom discussions
- Poor written expression
- Brief answers and failure to elaborate
- Redundancy (using same words over and over) of vocabulary or ideas
- Avoiding pronouns
- Tending to misjudge the prior knowledge of the listener (leaving out details that help the listener understand what you are saying)
- Hard time retrieving specific words from memory (dysnomia)
- Going around the word with a definition instead (circumlocution). For example, saying “you know, the moisture falling out from the clouds” instead of “precipitation”
Problems with Phonics and Phonemic Awareness
When the teacher says, “Just sound it out”, a student who has problems with phonics and/or phoneme awareness may find that hard to do. The student who has problems with phonics has trouble associating a particular sound with a particular letter or letters. A student who has trouble with phoneme awareness has difficulty understanding how speech can be segmented, or broken into small sounds, and also how these sounds can be put together.
Trouble with decoding new words soon begins to affect reading comprehension. This student may have poor reading comprehension in spite of good sight vocabulary. With textbooks becoming more complex as the student moves up in grade levels – for example, from grade 2, 3, and 4 to grades 5, 6, and 7, and then again in grades 8 and 9, and still more so in grades 10, 11 and 12, she may find herself dreading her reading assignments because it takes her so long to figure out all the new words. Decoding is not automatic for this student, and without picture clues in her textbooks, she now may feel slow and sometimes lost! Also, as she advances in grade levels, textbooks are not read out loud in class any more, so she can’t hear how a word is pronounced.
Problems with Auditory Discrimination
A student may not be able to easily hear the difference between similar sounds. A person may have a hard time, for example, hearing the difference between words such as bill and bell.
A person may frequently mispronounce words because she mishears them. Her pronunciations may be “close but no cigar.” For example, she may say “morpid” instead of “morbid” and “siduation” instead of “situation.” She may miss the meaning of a sentence because she mishears a word. For example, she hears “crab” instead of “cram,” which changes the meaning of the sentence — “I need to cram” is different from “I need to crab!’
Problems with Morphology and Syntax
A person may have a lot of trouble with prefixes and suffixes. For example, he have difficulty understanding what preamble, preview, and prepare have in common. He may have no trouble understanding the meaning of the word work, but he struggles with the word unworkable, which is made up of three morphemes (un/work/able).
Problems with Semantics
A person may have trouble with the flood of technical words that he has to use in math, science, or English, like isosceles, cilia, precipitation, or nominative. Sometimes it is hard for him to remember what all these words mean and even harder to know how to use them correctly. He might do well with memorizing the definition of the word, but he cannot use them correctly in a sentence. It may also be difficult for him to conjugate verbs in English class from present to past to future tense, much less from present perfect, to past perfect and to future perfect.
Problems with Discourse
In developing discourse, a student will be asked to take his language skills beyond sentence building and put his sentences together to form paragraphs and then stories or essays. Of course, it is not enough to put them together; she must also do it in such a way that the information is sensibly connected! She have good ideas for stories, but she just doesn’t seem to be able to get the ideas in the right order in a paragraph, story or essay. Sometimes her teachers ask her to read a long passage and then summarize what she has read. This is also a problem for her.
Problems with Pragmatics
Pragmatics includes the art of social language. How a person says things can indicate whether he is angry, sympathetic, or friendly. A person with weak language pragmatics misses these clues and sometimes responds in inappropriate ways. He can also miss the times when his friends are trying to be funny, but he thinks that they are being serious. Being able to understand and tell a joke also involves pragmatics. Poor code switching – forgetting that one may talk differently to his grandmother, his dad, his teacher, and his friend – is a language pragmatic problem. For example, if he talks to his teacher like he talks to his friend (“Chill out” or “Whatever”), the teacher may say he is being disrespectful.
Problems with Metalinguistic Awareness
Metalinguistic awareness refers to a person’s knowledge of the intricacies of language and how it works. If a person is weak in this area, he may not know what is and is not good English. He may also miss out on puns, metaphors, multiple meaning words, and analogies.