Semantics looks at meaning in language. Semantic skills refers to the ability to understand meaning in different types of words, phrases, narratives, signs and symbols and the meaning they give to the speaker and listener. Difficulties with semantic skills can lead to children not fully understanding what has been said.
Our speech and language therapists can assess your child’s semantic skills to determine if there are any difficulties and the impact these difficulties have on your child’s receptive language skills. Our speech and language therapists will then use the information to create a therapy programme that works on increasing your child’s semantic skills. Increase in semantic skills helps a child’s overall understanding of language and communication.
What are semantics?
Semantics looks for meaning in words individually, words together in a phrase and the relationship between words.
Words, phrases, signs, gestures, symbols and grammar all have agreed meanings in a language system. This helps the speaker to express their thoughts and feelings in a way that can be understood by those around them. All words have a set meaning, however the associations they evoke can vary from person to person depending on their experiences.
Semantic skills are important in developing an understanding of the world.
When a speech and language therapist assesses a child’s semantics skills, they do not just look at vocabulary and word meaning, but also the ability to understand:
- Categorisation of different words.
- Descriptive words such as adjectives and verbs.
- Word functions.
- Definition of words.
- Recognition of words through description.
- Relationships between words:
- Synonyms - words used to mean the same thing.
- Antonyms - words that mean the opposite of each other.
- Polysemy - words that have two or more related meanings.
- Homophony - words that have two or more meanings that are not related.
Identifying a children’s understanding of a word, its use and its meaning can help a speech and language therapist to understand why a child is struggling with understanding certain language and provide therapy accordingly.
Impact of semantic difficulties on receptive language
Difficulties with semantic skills can impact a child’s receptive language abilities. For example:
- Difficulty following instructions.
- Difficulty understanding questions.
- Difficulty understanding figurative language.
- Difficulty following conversations.
- Difficulty understanding spoken or written language.
- Difficulty making associations between words.
- Difficulty understanding the relationship between words.
A child who has difficulty with semantics might find it difficult to understand instructions or conversations with words that have a double meaning. As they may only know one meaning or find it difficult to understand that some words have more than one meaning. This can cause confusion for the child and they may carry out the wrong actions as they did not fully understand what was said.
Our speech and language therapists help children who struggle with semantic skills by providing therapy that increases the child’s ability to learn meaning and develop associations between words. Our speech and language therapists will work with parents and schools to develop a programme that can be worked on at clinic, school and home.