What is Pragmatic Language?

Pragmatic language is the ability to efficiently use words/language and body actions when being social. One uses these skills to engage in a reciprocal interaction with one or more communication partners at the same time recognizing and following socially expected rules.

According to the American –Speech- Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), Pragmatics involves three major communication skills:

1. Using language to comment, for different intentions, for example:

  • Greeting ( “hello”,  “goodbye”)
  • Informing ( “I'm going to get a cookie”)
  • Demanding ( “Give me a cookie”)
  • Promising ( “I'm going to get you a cookie”)
  • Requesting ( “I would like a cookie, please”)

2. Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation, for example:

  • Talking differently to a baby than to an adult
  • Giving background information to an unfamiliar listener in regards to the topic at hand
  • Speaking differently in a classroom than on a playground (Inside voice vs. Outside voice)

3. Following rules for conversations and storytelling, for example:

  • Taking turns in conversation
  • Introducing topics of conversation
  • Staying on topic
  • Rephrasing/changing the message when misunderstood
  • Use verbal and nonverbal signals (head nod to show understanding)
  • How close to stand to someone when speaking (personal space/boundaries)
  • How to use facial expressions and eye contact


How can I tell if my child is having problems with pragmatic language?

He or she may:

  • Make inappropriate or unrelated comments during conversations.
  • Tell stories in a disorganized way.
  • Has little variety in language use.
  • Does not provide the expected personal space when with others.
  • Little to no awareness of boundaries
  • Does not provide appropriate eye contact.
  • Does not appear to understand non-literal language
  • Is not aware of tone of voice or vocal volume
  • Cannot change his or her speech and language for different communication partners/settings

Why is treating my child’s pragmatic (social) language disorder important?

As according to ASHA, pragmatic language disorders often coexist with other language challenges. Pragmatic difficulties can lower a child’s social acceptance. Peers may avoid having conversations with an individual with a pragmatic disorder. This may directly affect ones desire to be social and his or her self-esteem.

PLEASE NOTE: These rules may vary across cultures and within cultures. It is important to understand the rules of your communication partner.