Language Comprehension

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to understand what’s said to you or what you read. First you need to attend to a voice, which requires that you localize or direct your attention to the person talking. Or while reading, attend to the words on the page. You also have to identify what words are most important to attend to, so there’s a hierarchy of attention. For some, the stream of language goes by too quickly to understand. You also have to add meaning to the words you hear or read. You may be shut out of the meaning, if you don’t know the vocabulary. And the meaning often changes as new information or words are added. So you need to be flexible with your ideas. To follow along, you must visualize what’s being said or what you read, which is easier if you’ve had some personal experiences that relate. Plus you need to use your short term memory to hold on to the ideas and visuals that you’re creating. Then the clincher, you have to put it all together to form conclusions, understand the main ideas, make inferences, compare and contrast, make associations, make predictions, understand the mood or if there’s humor involved. And there can be competing noise in the room. Truly, it’s amazing that we can understand each other! And then respond!

If any one of these aspects aren’t working well, it may make understanding difficult. And some people have multiple problems. Think of being in a country where you hardly know the language. I find that my students who have comprehension problems get exhausted at the end of the day after trying to make sense of the stream of talkĀ all day. Or they talk a lot so they can control what the topic is about and show that they are as smart as others. Or they say, “I don’t know” frequently and give up trying. Or all of the above.

I spend a lot of time trying to identify where the comprehension breaks down, so I can help my students use appropriate strategies or compensations to understand more language around them. My most useful strategy is self-advocacy. Asking for repeats, or telling people to slow down, or telling people to say your name first to help you know that they are talking to you can make a huge difference. Turning off the faucet, or facing the speaker, or shutting the door to a noisy hall….I want my students to know there are things they can ask people or things they can control in the environment. I want them to know that they have a right to ask these things so they can understand like everyone else.

Just thoughts of my day…

Do you know anyone who would benefit from language comprehension support? Let’s talk.


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