If I were to ask you what ‘communication’ is, I’m sure you’d come up with a great answer. Communication is making yourself heard and understood by others and listening and responding to what they say. It’s something that just happens, doesn’t it?
We are constantly communicating with each other, even when we are silent. Our gestures, facial expressions, the way we dress and express our emotions, and our reaction to circumstances send messages to the people around us and shape how we are heard and understood.
Learning to communicate is something that happens from the moment we arrive. The tiniest infant is communicating their needs from birth through cries, vocalisations and movements. Over our first months and years, we develop an amazing set of skills that enable us to learn to communicate with sounds, words and language.
To become a successful verbal communicator, we need to:
Be aware of sounds
Children learn that the sounds of their environment are different. For example, the sound of a car is different from the sounds that mummy makes when she is speaking.
Link groups of sounds (a word) to a meaning
E.g. ‘dog’ refers to an animal with four legs
Expand on the meaning
E.g. ‘dog’ refers specifically to an animal with four legs that barks and wags its tail. ‘Dog’ isn’t just a word for the family dog, and there are many dogs of different sizes, shapes, colours etc.
Understand that words are used to send a message
E.g. using the word ‘dog’ means ‘I want to play with the dog’ or ‘the dog wants to be fed.’
Make the sounds in the word.
Use our lips, tongue, teeth and airflow to make the sounds ‘d..o..g’ or an approximation of those sounds so that our group of sounds represents ‘dog.’
Understand how words can go together to make sentences
We need to understand lots of different types of words and how they function to make sentences, e.g. ‘dog’ is a noun and is linked to other words such as verbs (‘dog run’), determiners (‘the dog’), prepositions (‘dog down’), adjectives (‘big dog’), adverbs (‘dog run fast’) etc
Understand that communication works two ways
E.g. We can use the word ‘dog’ when we are talking to someone, but we also understand what ‘dog’ means when we hear someone else use the word.
Develop a well-organised storage system for words to help us learn, store and organisation information, and use language to think, reason and solve problems.
Know when to use certain words
These steps are just the beginning of learning how to understand and use words to communicate. We also need to consider how we look beyond the words we hear and interpret the intent behind someone’s message, including
Reading body language
Listening for emotions
Understanding tone of voice
Interpreting the message through the lens of our knowledge and experience
Understanding social expectations and patterns of behaviour
Verbal communication is a complex process! When someone finds one of these elements is not developing naturally, it’s best to seek help. Taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to communication development is rarely helpful as crucial language-learning time is often. Then the impact of the challenge they are facing becomes more significant.
Our team of speech pathologists work with children and adults who are experiencing a breakdown in communication or who are slow to develop their communication skills. We specialise in providing education, support and targeted therapy to support each individual’s communication needs.