How Speech Pathologists help children have conversations

When we think of ‘conversational skills’ we often immediately think of the non-verbal side of conversation; but do you ever think of what actually goes into our verbal communication?

There are two elements to the language skills we need for a successful conversation

Non-verbal communication


Non-verbal communication encompasses all the ‘extra’ bits that go into conversations, which we may not be 100% aware of. These are used to communicate emphasis and implicit messages and include:

> Facial expression

> Hand gestures

> Tone and pitch of voice

> Body gesture

> Physical distance between conversation partners.


They also can convey additional information, more than spoken communication. In fact, some research suggests that around 70-80% of communication is non-verbal!


Think back to your most recent conversation – what facial expressions, hand gestures, tone of voice and body positioning did you use to communicate your messages?  Can you imagine trying to convey sarcasm, without being able to alter the tone of your voice, your facial expression, your eye contact/body positioning? It wouldn’t be possible.  These non-verbal communication skills are important to our conversations, to help our conversation partners understand our messages.


Verbal communication


While most of our communication in conversations is non-verbal, the words we use and how we use them also matter!

We can have all the non-verbal communication skills in the world, but if we don’t know what to say, our conversations won’t go anywhere.


There are three general components to conversations:


1. The use of language to convey different messages and communicate.

This includes the ability to not only greet, request and inform; but to be able to share experiences and tell stories.  

The basis of all social communication is to share. What is one of the first questions you ask your friends/work colleagues on a Monday morning?  If your immediate thought was “How was your weekend?”; you’re spot on.

Your friend/colleague will then most likely launch into a story about his/her weekend, sharing their stories about catching up with family, seeing a movie, going to the beach etc etc.  After ‘sharing’ their experience, the question will be asked to you and you will then ‘share’ your experience.

To be social is to share.


2. Adapting your language/communication for the listener.

Changing your communication style depending on who you are talking to and who is listening. Do you speak to a two year old the same way you speak to your boss? Do you speak to your siblings the same way you do your students?  Having the skills to alter the words you use and how you use them; being aware of the listener’s knowledge and changing your communication style to suit the environment (speaking louder in noisy situations) are key aspects of verbal communication. Generally speaking, people have an ‘informal’, a ‘formal’ and a ‘motherese’ mode of communication.


Informal is reserved for family, friends, and those who you feel comfortable with. You might use slang, informal greetings, you may not attend 100% to the conversation rules. There may be assumed knowledge, following on from previous conversations.


Formal is for work situations, for the boss, for clients, students, work colleagues and liaising with other professionals; such as Doctors, Dentists, etc. You will use more formal language structures, you adhere to the conversation rules.  Everything will be explained, with no assumed previous knowledge.


Motherese is the mode you immediately activate when presented with a cute, fluffy dog or cat; or when interacting with infants, toddlers and young children.  Your pitch will rise, your sentences will be shorter, your words easier and your face will be communicating just as much as your words are.


3. The ability to follow the ‘unwritten’ rules of conversation.  

This includes turn taking, asking questions, looking at your conversation partner, standing an appropriate distance away, responding ‘on topic’ and using your non-verbal communication skills. It is important to note that these rules can vary across cultures, so it is important to know who you are communicating with. The general structure of conversations include a greeting, questions, comments, responses, then, if time poor, a segway and a farewell.


How we help


At Cooee Speech Pathology, we work with children across the ages to help them develop social skills. A large part of what we teach is to share & explain.

We work on personal narrative skills; building their awareness of what goes into sharing a narrative, how to structure it, appropriate topics and how to respond on topic.

We support their language structures; while developing their awareness of the ‘unwritten’ rules – the conversation structure; responding on topic; asking questions and keeping the conversation going.

 If this sounds like something your child would benefit from, Cooee will be running Social Skills groups in the July holidays. These will teach conversational skills, turn taking and negotiating and the ability to take on other’s ideas.

Contact us today on 3265 4495; or keep an eye on our facebook page for more information!