Language serves many purposes. We use language to share our needs, our wants, our feelings and our thoughts. We use language to become apart of our shared community and socially interact with others. Weak language skills can make a person feel isolated and disconnected from those around him. In addition, he may miss out on learning opportunities. Language skills help build strong social connections and friendships as well as allow us to absorb information from teachers and the world around us.
Most people learn language organically as they develop from an infant to a toddler and beyond into adulthood. Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, breaks language into two parts. The first part involves creating a relationship between meaning and sound. What this refers to is that when we hear the sound “d-o-g” we think of a dog, an animal that has four legs and a tail. The average person performs this task quickly and automatically. Most people have learned 50,000 to 100,000 words, which they can quickly and efficiently process from sound to meaning.
The second part of language, according to Pinker, is ability to follow rules and combine words to communicate the thought we have to another person. We learn that “Sarah sat on a hat” has a different meaning than “ A hat sat on Sarah”. We learn that the order of the words is important and that we can get different meanings from the same words.
There is a growing population of students who are struggling with the organizational component of language. Many of these students have acquired the sound to meaning portion of language, but they get overwhelmed when they are required to organize their thoughts to effectively communicate their idea to others. I have begun to call this a “Language Organization Deficit.”
Many of the students who experience this difficulty have a background history of dyslexia, ADHD or language processing difficulty. Some students with Language Organization issues experience word-finding issues, but more commonly they have trouble quickly and clearly conveying information. They may talk around an idea without ever stating what they are trying to communicate. Students with Language organization issues can have trouble keeping up with the pace of the conversation, leading to difficulty in social situations. They also struggle with organizing their ideas to write a paper.
Students with a Language Organization weakness need to build both their language skills and their executive functioning skills.
- Strengthening the phonological loop with rapid naming exercises can help speed up the word finding component of language.
- Teaching the Executive Functioning skills of Stop, Think, Plan, Do can allow the student to slow down to organize his ideas.
- Building a strong vocabulary base, learning antonyms and synonyms, will increase the choices a student has to express his ideas.
- Learning to breakdown ideas into parts and then organize them can help a student start a task without feeling overwhelmed.
- Building flexible thinking skills can help a child with language organization issues find new ways of thinking and organizing ideas.
Language and the ability to share thoughts is a basic skill. Those who struggle in this area miss many opportunities for development and friendships. I hope that looking at and considering the organizational component of language can help more students effectively and fluently communicate their thoughts and feelings.
My Workbook:Think, Talk, Laugh!: Increase Verbal Processing Speed and Language Organization Skills is filled with exercises to build language organization skills.