Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

February 24, 2023

Natural Language Acquisition Approach

Natural Language Acquisition Approach and Language Processing

By: Rachel Fry, CCC-SLP

Does your child use delayed echolalia to communicate?

Have you heard of gestalt language processing?

Children learn and process language in one of two ways. These two ways are known as analytic language development and gestalt language development.

A child who is an analytic language processor will learn single words, add to their verbal vocabulary, and then combine single words to communicate their wants and needs. They may move from “wawa” to “water” to “more water” and eventually “get me some water please”.  As speech therapists we can teach these children to add more to their vocabulary and to combine more words into sentences to make longer sentences.

A gestalt language processor learns their language in “chunks” or gestalts. Instead of learning single words at first, these language processors might start out using whole phrases or long vocalizations using intonation patterns. These longer phrases/sentences are called gestalts. Gestalt is a unit of language that represents a meaning.  You may see these children use something we called delayed echolalia. They may repeat whole phrases they have heard in a television show, book, or sentences picked up from a conversation. For example “I will save you” to represent they need help, or “we need more ingredients” when they are hungry. This language may not make sense at first if we take their meaning literally but we have found it is our job to do the work of figuring out the meaning behind it. With guidance through a play based method, Speech therapists can help children expand then break down their language to move to spontaneously generated language.

Natural language acquisition (NLA) is a method of guiding children who are gestalt language processors through the levels of language development to move from echolalia speech to spontaneously generated language.