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ELCISS aims to enhance language and communication in secondary school children with primary language and communication impairment through narrative/storytelling and vocabulary enrichment.

Students with language and communication impairments

The effective communication requires an integration of all four of language components (phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics). Children with language and communication problems can experience difficulties with any or all of the four components of language.

They can have problems with the sounds of the language (phonology) and in pronouncing words, particularly multisyllabic words - words with more than 2 syllables - for example: hippopotamus. Difficulties with the sound system can lead to problems with literacy when students have to convert the grapheme (letter) into the phoneme (sound).

Problems can also be seen in grammar, with difficulties using morphemes (smallest meaningful unit of sound) to indicate tense for example, ‘catch’ versus ‘caught’, as well as problems putting words together to form more complex sentences, for example, using conjunctions like ‘but’ and ‘however’.

Problems in semantics manifest in word finding difficulties, with students struggling to find the target word and overusing general words like ‘thing’ and ‘stuff’ and ‘uhm’ and ‘er’.

Students with semantic difficulties may also show a reduced vocabulary and the words they do have in their repertoire will often be very literal and limited to very specific items. For example, the word ‘sweet’ will be used to indicate a tasty snack that one buys from the newsagent, but not be extended to include the chocolate mousse dessert eaten as the last course of dinner. There will also be less understanding of this word in a more figurative sense, i.e. to indicate the personality of a man, i.e. the sweet-natured man.

Problems with pragmatics involve the way children use language. Pragmatic difficulties can be seen when students use language inappropriately, for example, they may use the same language when talking to their peers and head teacher not understanding the need to change language depending on the listener. Pragmatics also includes choosing the most appropriate words, and the use and interpretation of appropriate non-verbal language (facial expression and body language) to communicate effectively.

All these difficulties can involve the understanding (reception) and expression of language. Students with language problems also have difficulties with attention, concentration and listening. They also may experience difficulties with memory. All these difficulties can impede learning across all subjects on the National Curriculum and also make social interaction more difficult. It is important to remember that children with language impairments are a very heterogeneous group and present with different strengths and areas of need.