Understanding Sentences

Why is my child having trouble with understanding sentences?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of a speech pathologist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as sentence comprehension.

Understanding sentences is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Listening skills (e.g. keeping hand still and making eye contact)
  • Knowing the names of objects and places (nouns), doing words (verbs) and describing words (adjectives) and numbers (e.g. “the black cat is walking to the dog”)
  • Understanding concepts (e.g. what does ‘big’ mean? What does ‘in’ mean? What does before mean?)
  • Understanding small grammatical structures and rules (e.g. plurals ‘rabbits’ or ‘men’, changing verb tense ‘walked’ or ‘swam’, modifiers ‘not’)
  • Discriminating slight changes in sentences that can change its meaning (e.g. ‘the apple is under the chair’ or ‘the apple is not under the chair’)

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Vocabulary development - You can support your child to practice understanding sentences at home through building their vocabulary. You can model a range of vocabulary and concepts with your child by self-narrating what you do each day, for example ‘I’m going to put the dinner plates on the table’, and emphasising a variety of words when playing and interacting with your child. You can build vocabulary in daily tasks, for example at the supermarket you and your child can make a game of naming the foods you see. You can build understanding of concepts using different games, for example a running race can be a great demonstration of sequencing, like first and last, or before and after. Resources to support teaching a variety of concepts can be found here: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/concepts/

Grammatical structures – Another way to support your child’s development in understanding sentences is through modelling different types of sentences and grammar structures. For example, pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ can be modelled and emphasised through games at homes using puppets such as “He is jumping. She is climbing”.

How can a speech pathologist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as understanding sentences. Speech pathologists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as understanding sentences. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards sentence comprehension may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
  • Developing skills through fun and creative activities
  • Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home, school and in the community

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