Higher-level language skills by Kate Saunders

What are higher level language skills? Higher level language refers to skills that go beyond basic language abilities. Examples of tasks that require higher level language skills are those that require you to use language to:

  • Reason
  • Provide explanations
  • Make predictions
  • Problem solve
  • Look at things from another person’s perspective
  • Recognise the difference between literal and non-literal language

Using higher-level language skills can be tricky! Even as an adult there will be times when it can be difficult for us to infer the intended meaning of a message and “read between the lines”. For a child with language difficulties this will be even more challenging and they may need extra support.

Why are these skills important? As a child progresses through school, develops friendships and encounters a range of different social situations, the use of higher level language abilities becomes increasingly important.

Let’s use the example of a literacy lesson at school. After reading a book, a child may be asked to identify how a character is feeling, and what they might say in a specific situation. This information is not immediately obvious and therefore the child will have to use their higher level language skills to look at the situation from the character’s perspective. They then may then be asked to explain how they can tell that the character is feeling that way. This is even trickier! It requires the child to identify the information that has helped them make their inference as well as then explaining their answer in a way that makes sense and includes all of the necessary information.

Let’s look at another example. In a social situation, a child could encounter difficulty if they want to play football but their friend wants to play basketball. This situation requires some problem solving, which is also a higher level language skill. Problem solving involves the ability to recognise the relationship between an action and its outcome. Children who have difficulty determining causes may also find it challenging to predict outcomes.

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Grammar by Lucy Pollard

What it is, why it matters, and how it relates to SLT.

Grammar has been hitting the headlines recently. A new National Curriculum was introduced into schools in 2014. According to the government, this National Curriculum is “more challenging” and has introduced new standards in reading, maths, spelling, punctuation and grammar. This has led to a change in the way children are tested in school (these tests are also known as SATs).  As of the school year 2015 – 2016, children reaching the end of Key Stage 2 in Year 6 (aged 10 and 11) will take new tests, with a greater focus than previous years on a child’s abilities in grammar. All this has left many parents and people who work with children a bit worried. So what is grammar? And why does it matter? And what does all this have to do with Speech and Language Therapy?

Grammar means language structure. There are two main aspects to language structure – word order and word forms (some people would call these aspects syntax and morphology, but let’s not worry too much about that). Does that explain it? Probably not. Let’s look at some examples. Consider this sentence:

It is raining.

Now think about how you would turn that into a question. You’d probably do this:

Is it raining?

You’ve changed the word order by swapping around ‘it’ and ‘is’ to make a question. Excellent grammar skills! Now how about if you wanted to talk about the rain that happened yesterday. You might say this:

Yesterday, it was raining.

You have changed the word form by changing ‘is’ to ‘was’. It’s changed from a present tense form into a past tense form. Well done! More grammar! There are many ways in which we can change the structure of the language we use. When learning about grammar, it’s helpful to label up the different parts of language so that we can learn about them more easily. These labels include words like verbs, nouns, adjectives, pronouns, prefixes, suffixes and contracted forms. It’s a child’s knowledge and understanding of these sorts of terms that the new Key Stage 2 tests will look at.

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Using children’s books to support speech and language development by Caitlyn Chandler

You don’t need expensive toys or specialist resources to support your child’s speech and language development at home. Some of the best tools are in fact the simplest. I want to share with you how you can use children’s books to support many different aspects of your child’s speech and language development. The following are just a handful of ideas to get you started!

Phonological awareness

These activities target your child’s ability to identify and manipulate the sound structure of words. This is an important skill for learning new words and is crucial for literacy skills.

  • Go on a ‘scavenger hunt’ through the book looking for pictures or actions that start with a specific sound.
  • Choose a word on each page and clap out the number of syllables. Make sure to choose a variety of both short and long words. E.g. Ba-na-na, di-no-saur
  • Play ‘I spy’ and ask your child to find something that rhymes with a word that you give them.


It is important for children to be able to recall and retell a sequence of events in order to effectively talk about and make sense of events that have happened.

  • After reading a story, practise retelling it by talking about what happens at the beginning, middle and end.
  • Identify 3-5 main events in the story and sketch them out on separate pieces of paper or sticky notes. Mix them up and have a go at putting them back in order.

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Concepts; what are they? And how do we teach them? by Sarah Buckley

Speech and language therapists will often comment on a child’s understanding and use of concept vocabulary. Concepts are really useful words we use all the time in our spoken and written language. Learning concepts are a crucial part of learning in the early years, but also throughout primary education.

Concepts can be words that describe objects, like big, square, red. They can describe time and position like first, last, on the right. They can also signpost us about which bits of the sentence to follow, like before, only, except.

When we are teaching word meaning we often link the spoken word to a picture or real object. If I am teaching the word “apple” then I am probably holding an apple. The problem with teaching concepts is that they cannot be defined by reference to a specific thing as their meaning can apply to multiple contexts. Many things are square and many things are big!

Most children work out concepts over time. If we point to enough things that are hot then the child will work out that hot means the way that the water/cup of tea/sun or any other hot thing feels. However, our children with speech and language difficulties struggle to make these connections on their own and will need concept vocabulary explicitly taught. That is why speech and language therapists will often target concept teaching.

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What is Speech and Language Therapy? by Hannah Sullivan

Back to Basics: What is Speech and Language Therapy?


The Communication Trust estimates that in the UK, over 1 million children and young people have some form of speech, language and communication difficulty. That’s 2 – 3 in every UK classroom. It is therefore important that parent’s, teachers and other professionals have a good understanding of what it is exactly that a Speech and Language Therapist (SLT) does and how they may work with children with difficulties.

As SLT’s we sometimes hear questions such as:

  • “Why does my child need speech therapy as they can talk?”
  • “Can you help me speak with a posher accent?”

Whilst more and more people are encountering Speech and Language Therapists in their everyday lives it is important individuals are confident they have an accurate understanding of the role of the SLT and the broad range of skills they may work on with a child with speech and language difficulties.

What do we mean by communication?

As Speech and Language Therapists we help children with their communication. Put simply communication is the exchange of messages or meanings. It uses many skills, although we often focus on language and speech because they convey the most complex meanings. Although we often take communication for granted, it’s a complex process! It can be helpful to break it down into parts, to understand how it develops and realize how important it is to work on things such as attention, play and understanding as well as a child’s output. Sometimes we refer to the diagram below to help demonstrate the different skills needed to communicate effectively.


Taken from https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk

This is known as the “Communication Development Pyramid“. As Therapists our role involves working with children to support the development of their skills at every level of the language pyramid in order to promote effective communication.

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Stammering by Hannah Russell

For our blog this month we are focusing on Stammering.

The terminology – What term should we use?
Dysfluency? Stammering? Stuttering? Is there a difference?

All therapists have different ways of working and with this they use different terms to talk about the same difficulty. This could be depending on where they trained, where they have worked or where they currently work. No matter which term is used: dysfluency, stammering or stuttering – they all mean the same thing. The best way to decide what to call it is to ask your child how they would like to refer to their non-fluency and then use the term they feel most comfortable with.

Difference between normal non-fluency and stammering

Everybody stammers from time to time and it can be difficult to know the difference between a child showing normal non-fluency and the beginnings of stammering. Below are some characteristics of normal non-fluency:

  • Whole word or phrase repetition
  • Pausing or use of interruptions (e.g. ‘err’)
  • One or less dysfluencies per 100 words
  • Periods of fluency interspersed by periods of non-fluency
  • No evidence of tension, struggle or avoidance
  • Happily communicates and is unaware of non-fluency

A few facts:

  • Stammering often runs in families
  • About 5% of children stammer
  • About 1% of adults have a stammer
  • Boys are more likely to stammer than girls (4:1)
  • The environment may influence the way you speak
  • The severity of a stammer may vary, but it is not always easy to see why

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Interaction by Clare Furneaux


This month we are focusing on interaction.

As speech and language therapists we are often asked about how to develop children’s understanding and use of language.

But what comes before this?

Before a child is ready to understand and use language they need to develop a want and need to communicate.  This is where the importance of interaction comes into play.  Interaction is a fundamental part of communication and is crucial because it is the first learning that takes place in usual development.  Before this learning takes place it is difficult to learn anything else.

What do we learn from interaction?

By taking part in interactions with others we learn a range of different communication skills. These include:

  • Learning to enjoy being with another person
  • Developing the ability to attend to another person
  • Sharing personal space
  • Increasing concentration and attention span
  • Using and understanding eye contact
  • Using and understanding facial expressions

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Auditory Processing Disorders by Kathryn Moyse

This month we have been focusing on children with difficulties with listening, or Auditory Processing Disorders.

When we are thinking about a child with an Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), it is useful to think about the difference between hearing and listening. At first, it might seem that these words mean the same thing, but actually there is more to it than this. Hearing is a sense, and when we talk about hearing, we are thinking about the physical ability of the ear and the brain to receive sound. Listening, on the other hand, is a learnt skill. Listening involves paying attention to the sounds that we hear and then processing this sound to work out what the sound means. Listening, or auditory processing, is a really important component of understanding speech and language. What is more, from a very young age, children need to learn how to listen – they need to learn to tune in to the sounds that are meaningful to them, and to filter out all the background noise.

Some children will have difficulties with learning this vital skill. Difficulties with listening can arise in children for a number of reasons – it could be that child experiences persistent glue ear, or has a developmental condition such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or a Specific Language Impairment to give a few examples. Regardless of the cause of these difficulties, it is important for us to think about how we can support these children. Often, it can be tempting to remind the child to listen, and whilst it can be helpful to secure the child’s attention before talking to them, it is important for us to think about ways that we can make ourselves more ‘listenable’ to support the child with their listening.

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Dyslexia and Speech and Language Difficulties by Caitlyn Chandler

Dyslexia and Speech and Language Difficulties

This month we are looking at the connection between dyslexia and speech and language difficulties.

What is dyslexia?

Dyslexia is the label used to describe a range of difficulties linked to written (or printed) language, thus affecting reading and writing skills.

Do all children with dyslexia automatically have speech and language difficulties too?

Many children with dyslexia have no speech and language difficulties. Dyslexia is a difficulty specifically with written language. A child who has a speech and language difficulty has a broader difficulty with language which means their understanding and/or use of spoken language is impaired.

There is however a higher rate of speech and language difficulties amongst children who have dyslexia. Different experts have come to different conclusions about how frequently children have both dyslexia and a speech and language difficulty. Depending on age and a range of other criteria, experts have said that anywhere between 14% to 50% of children with dyslexia also show signs of an additional speech and language difficulty (McArthur et al 2000; Catts et al 2005).

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Vocabulary by Becky Harrison


This month we are talking about vocabulary.

Learning new vocabulary

From looking at the size of a dictionary we get an idea of the vast number of words that we use in our language. These words come up in conversations, in books, in the classroom, on T.V…even on the back of a cereal packet! Words really are everywhere, but when and how do we learn these words?

A child will typically start using single words when he/she is around 12 months old. Children will understand more words than they can use. Between 18-24 months children will understand around 300 words and be able to use a number of these. By the time a child is 5 years old they will typically use around 5000 words!

Initially, children will label real-life objects that they see regularly in their environment e.g. car, milk. They learn these words through play and interaction with others. As children get older and learn to read they acquire much of their new vocabulary through text.  

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