Ever Wonder Why Treating Pronouns Never Works?

Ever felt like your clients can’t hear what you’re trying to tell them? Maybe they can’t.
(picture from pixabay.com)

Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of SLPs who have complained their clients never seem to make any progress beyond the treatment card set when they try to address pronoun errors.

You know, those kids who revert right back to “Him go” or “Her play” once the treatment card set is put away…

Let’s talk linguistics for a minute…Oral language is comprised of the “Fab 5” areas: 1) phonology; 2) morphology; 3) semantics; 4) syntax; and 5) pragmatics. Phonology is the speech sounds and speech sound patterns of a language. Morphology includes the smallest units of meaning in a language. For English, that generally means ‘root words’ and prefixes and suffixes. A synonym for semantics is vocabulary, or words and their meanings. Syntax concerns the word order or grammar rules of a language. Pragmatics is the social use of language.

Let’s focus more specifically on morphosyntax – where morphology meets syntax. English doesn’t have much overt morphosyntax. All verb phrases must still be marked for person and number. The only place we ‘see’ it is in 3rd person singular – I go, you go, s/he/it goes, we go, y’all go, they go. In present tense, English doesn’t overtly mark the person or number on 1st or 2nd person singular or plural or 3rd person plural. When a child isn’t able to mark person and number correctly in English verb phrases, they substitute the objective pronoun forms for the subjective – me get it; her play. There are a couple of competing theories about why this happens, but the theories aren’t much help in the therapy room.

What will help in the therapy room? First, understand the lack of the verb phrase tense marking is what is driving the incorrect pronoun forms. If you try to make a child produce the correct pronoun without addressing the underlying verb phrase tense marking issues, you are simply making the child memorize your treatment card set. The child will never generalize the correct, subjective pronouns beyond the treatment set because the pronoun errors are a symptom of the real problem. In other words, you’re changing the bandage instead of treating the wound underneath.

What should you do instead? Treat the verb phrase and the pronouns will follow.

How do you do that? I am developing a set of Google Slides/Boom Cards which are designed to be used as minimal pairs to address the verb marking errors rather than the pronouns. I hope to have them available to share in the next week or so. If you’re interested and/or would like more information, please feel free to contact me privately. I also am working on making some materials available from my own research which use a different, errorless learning technique called structural priming. I hope to have those materials available on TpT in the very near future.

As always, thank you for your time dear reader.

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