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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Marge, M.S. CCC-SLP

What can I do to help me or my child find words?

Having difficulty with word retrieval, also known as word finding, can be very frustrating for children and adults. Word finding errors can be sorted into three categories:

  1. Tip of the tongue errors (“It’s a…what is that word?”)

  2. Slip of the tongue errors (“It’s a giraffe, no, I mean elephant!”)

  3. Twist of the tongue errors (“It’s an ephalant.”)

Here are five strategies to help you or your child with word finding difficulties:

  1. Describe the word. If you or your child is having trouble finding a word, don’t wait too long. After about 5-6 seconds, just start describing what you are talking about (“It’s a big animal, it’s gray, it has a long nose.”) Very often, as we describe the word, it will come to mind.

  2. Think of a synonym for the word. For example, if you’re trying to retrieve the word “shears”, you can say “scissors” instead. If appropriate, you can even use an antonym (“It’s the opposite of…). Building a child’s vocabulary of synonyms and antonyms is a great way to offset word retrieval errors.

  3. Use gestures to supplement what you’re trying to say. For instance, if you’re trying to find the word “globe” you can talk about it and show the shape of it with your hands.

  4. Try to think of the first sound of the word. If your child is having difficulty and you know what the first sound may be, give her the first sound.

  5. Try a phrase leading up to the word (e.g. “At a wedding, the bride wears a …..”). To help your child, provide her with a phrase so she can fill in the blank.

If you are concerned about your or your child’s ability to retrieve words, contact a licensed speech language pathologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The speech therapist will perform an evaluation and you will be provided with many other specific strategies during speech and language therapy. Although having word finding difficulties is frustrating, help is only a phone call or a few clicks away!

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