What are Pragmatic Language Skills?

Pragmatic language refers to the social language skills that we use in our daily interactions with others. This includes what we say, how we say it, our non-verbal communication (eye contact, facial expressions, body language etc.) and how appropriate our interactions are in a given situation.

Pragmatic skills are vital for communicating our personal thoughts, ideas and feelings. Children with difficulties in this area often misinterpret other peoples’ communicative intent and therefore will have difficulty responding appropriately either verbally or non-verbally.

Examples of pragmatic skills:

• Conversational skills
• Asking for, giving and responding to information
• Turn taking
• Eye contact
• Introducing and maintaining topics
• Making relevant contributions to a topic
• Asking questions
• Avoiding repetition or irrelevant information
• Asking for clarification
• Adjusting language based on the situation or person
• Using language of a given peer group
• Using humour
• Using appropriate strategies for gaining attention and interrupting
• Asking for help or offering help appropriately
• Offering/responding to expressions of affection appropriately
• Facial expression
• Body language
• Intonation of voice
• Body distance and personal space

Many children will have difficulty with some components of pragmatic language. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder may have particular difficulty with many of these skills due to their deficits with social interactions. Children with language disorders may also have difficulty demonstrating appropriate pragmatic skills.

Visual supports such as pictures or symbols is one strategy that can be used with children who have difficulties with social skills. Providing good role models and role playing situations may also assist children with poor pragmatic skills and enable them to practise appropriate behaviours. Social stories can also be used to explicitly teach some of these skills to children.


Written By


Sarah Gorman, Senior Speech & Language Therapist at Sensational Kids, Kildare


Copyright Sensational Kids CLG 2018