Using Commercials to Target Pragmatic Language Goals

Pragmatic Language

Pragmatic language refers to the social language skills we use to communicate in everyday life.  Speech-Language Pathologists break down pragmatic language into three major skills: using language, changing language and following rules as stated by American Speech Language Hearing Association. Children with High Functioning Autism or Social Pragmatic Language Disorder often have difficulty with certain aspects of these three major skills. Speech-Language Pathologists at Eyas Landing use one innovative strategy using something we see every day – Commercials!

The first major skill in pragmatic language is using language. Examples of this would be making a request versus a promise or taking turns when talking. The second skill, changing language, could mean altering your words when not being understood or understanding someone’s body language or tone of voice. Problems with these skills could result in not getting the joke when everyone else is laughing, not understanding when an adult changes their voice, not responding to greetings, taking things very literal, talking to an adult the same way they talk to friend, or difficulty with personal space, to name a few.

The tricky part about pragmatic language is that these situations often happen in natural environments, so Speech-Language Pathologists work on ways to recreate, role play or find these situations during their sessions. Watching, pausing and discussing commercials is a fun way to target these skills.

Commercials can include an underlying message, humor, and peoples’ reactions to products.  Children are often interested and engaged in TV, as it is captivating and they do not even realize they are working on their pragmatic language! Therapists use iPads to watch commercials and have the ability to watch, pause, and re-watch the segments, which is typically hard to do with a real-life situation.

Speech-Language Pathologists recommend watching a commercial and then PAUSE to look for some of these things to target pragmatic language:

Facial expressions and body language – Ask how is the person moving their body? How are they standing/sitting? Are they close or far away from the other people? Ask how are they feeling? How do you know they are feeling that way? What is their face doing?

Look for the “underlying” message – What is the commercial trying to sell or trying to explain? Is it comparing itself to another product? Would you buy this item because of the commercial? How could you make this commercial better? Who do you think would buy this product?

Inference -Ask what will happen next? Why did you think that will happen? How do you know that will happen?

Humor – If you laughed, why? What was funny? How did we know it was a joke and wasn’t being rude/mean?

Voice – How loud was their voice? Was that a happy/sad/etc voice? Why do you think they raised/lowered their voice?

Changing Their Vocabulary – Were they using ‘big’ words or ‘easier’ words? Who were they talking to? Did they change their words when they talked to someone new? Why did they do that?

Metaphors/Idioms -Why did the person use an idiom? Why did they say that but really mean something else? Have you heard someone say this before? Does the title make sense? What do you think they meant?

Here are a few examples of commercials. (Doritos has a lot of great ones!!)

“Elephant in the room”

“Sling shot baby”

“Dog Park”

“Dog Crash”

“Ostrich in the Break Room”

Targeting pragmatic language through watching commercials is a great therapy technique for pragmatic language. Commercials can be watched, paused and re-watched and they help us see into these natural environments that are often hard to re-create. Speech-Language Pathologists are always looking for new ways to make therapy fun while targeting our client’s goals.

Contributing Author, Rebecca Henaghan, MS, CCC-SLP