Confusing Words for Small Children

In this post, we will look at some commonly used words that can bring a great deal of frustration to adults when communicating with small children. The terms are presented in the following categories

  • Deictic terms
  • Interrogatives
  • Locational terms
  • Temporal terms

Deictic Terms

Deictic terms fall under the umbrella of pragmatic development or understanding of the context in which words are used. Examples of deictic terms include such words as this, that, these, those, here, there, etc. What makes these words confusing for young children and even ESL speakers is that the meaning of these words depends on the context. Below is a clear way to communicate followed by a way that is unclear using a deixis term

Clear communication: Take the book
Unclear communication: Take that

The first sentence makes it clear what to take which in this example is the book. However, for a child or ESL speaker, the second sentences can be mysterious. What does “that” mean. It takes pragmatic or contextual knowledge to determine what “that” is referring to in the sentence. Children usually cannot figure this out while an ESL speaker will watch the body language (nonlinguistic cues) of the speaker to figure this out.

Interrogatives

A unique challenge for children is understanding interrogatives. These are such words as who, what, where, when, and why. The challenge with these questions is they involve explaining the cause, time, and or reasons. Many parents have asked the following question without receiving an adequate answer

Why did you take the book?

The typical 3-year old is going to wonder what the word “why” means. Off course, you can combine a deictic term with an interrogative and completely lose a child

Why did you do that?

Locational Terms

Locational terms are prepositions words such as in, under, above, behind etc. These words can be challenging for young children because they have to understand the perspective of the person speaking. Below is an example.

Put the book under the table.

Naturally, the child is trying to understand what “under” means. We can also completely confuse a child by using terms from all the categories we have discussed so far.

Why did you put that under the table?

This sentence would probably be unclear to many native speakers. The ambiguity is high especially with the term “that” included.

Temporal Terms

Temporal terms are about time. Commonly used words include before, after, while, etc. These terms are difficult for children because young children do not quite grasp the concept of time. Below is an example of a sentence with a temporal term.

Before, dinner, grab the book

The child is probably wondering when they are supposed to get the book. Naturally, we can combine all of our terms to make a truly nightmarish sentence.

Why did you put that under the table after dinner?

Conclusion

The different terms mentioned here are terms that can cause frustration when trying to communicate. To alleviate, these problems parents and teachers should avoid these terms when possible by using nouns. In addition, using body language to indicate position or pointing to whatever you are talking about can help young children to infer the meaning

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