Is Pragmatic Language Teaching Too Often Ignored?

On some occasion a while back I came across a pragmatic language situation that I thought could be taught in therapy.  Since that occasion the regularity with which new social language situations that would be ripe for therapy has surprised me.  They just keep popping up.  The frequency of these situations varies.  What do you say to a friend who has just lost a loved one?  There are two similar questions on the Pragmatic Judgment subtest of the Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language (CASL), though hopefully this situation occurs less frequently in the lives of most people reading this.  I for one have not been good at these kind of situtations, but I’ve tried to identify my inadequacies, observed what others with these skills have said in these situations, and I think, I have improved.

For children who may learn these aptitudes eventually, early learning is both possible and preventative of potential conflict.  What do you say when someone is in your way?  I have not yet seen this question on a test, but people are in my way all the time, just as I find myself often in the way of others.  Nonetheless, it’s astonishing how many children I’ve worked with that don’t know the power of a simple “excuse me,” accompanied with a smile.  Even more astonishing is that despite how easy it is to teach this, how often it goes untaught.  It seems the usual assumption is that it will eventually be learned without direct teaching, implying that we rely on observation and/or learning by trial and error to teach this and many other pragmatic skills.  And because this kind of incidental teaching works for some, pragmatic skills are rarely the targets of teachers and language interventionists.

Consider these other situations:  What do you say when someone shows you pictures of his normal looking children?  What do you say when you still can’t hear a question after its already been repeated?  Or how about when you’re asked how another person looks?  Or how about when someone accidentally insults you?  What should you say, and how should you say it, if you have an honest disagreent with another’s opinion?  Or, …well, believe me, this list can go on and on.  If you have children, it’s possible that you understand how each one of these situations must be individually taught, and also how once taught, it’s probably no longer necessary to work on each individual situation again.  Conversely, consider how frequently kids with impaired language have simply not been taught these things.  And we all know people that are exceptional at knowing what to say at the right time, just as we know others who aren’t.  Was this knowledge surgically infused, or inherited?  Or did they have better role models than most?

Perhaps for starters, we need a list.  An abbreviated one can be found by clicking below.