I communicate with someone with speech difficulties

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Tips to help understand what the person is saying

Provide the opportunity for communication

Provide as much stimulation as you can. Look at old photographs together. Talk their family, job, hobbies and interests etc.

Give the person time

If the person takes quite a long time to get their thoughts together and then put them into words, the temptation may be to hurry them. If you are very busy, then try to set aside time when you do have more time. Then you can be more relaxed talking.

Respond to the emotion

Try to respond not only to the words being said, but also to the intent or emotion behind the words. This is often shown by the facial expression and tone of voice.

Helping your understanding

Clarifying questions

Ask for clarification (e.g. “Are you talking about …. or ……..?”)

Sound cueing

Often, just giving the first sound of a word (provided you know what it is they want to say) can be a sufficient memory jogger.

You give the first sound of the word and see if they can finish it (e.g. “sh” for shoes, “c” for coffee). Always check they are happy for you to do this.

Lead in phrase

Sometimes putting the word they are searching for at the end of the lead in phrase is helpful (e.g. “A cup of …” for tea). You say the lead in phrase and see if they can finish it.


  • If they ‘stray’ off the topic during conversation, gently remind them what you were speaking about, and guide them back to the original topic.
  • Encourage them to use gesture to try and demonstrate what they are saying, or if possible ask them to show you what they are referring to.
  • If you really cannot understand what the person is saying, it might be necessary to tell them this and say that it would be best to leave it for now and that you will return later to try again.

Be encouraging and reinforce any attempts to communicate in any way, not just using speech.

Tips to help the person understand you

Get the person’s attention

Stop what you are doing
  • Don’t come into a room, speaking as you enter, continuing to speak as you move around, and continuing to speak as you leave the room.
  • Do come into the room, stop what you are doing and face the person you are speaking to.
Say the person’s name or touch their arm
  • The person may not be attending to you when you start to speak, therefore say their name first.

Don’t say “Would you like a cup of tea Tom?”

Do say “Tom” ….. “would you like a cup of tea?”

Cut down distraction

Background distraction
  • Don’t expect them to be able to concentrate against a background noise of TV, radio and other people talking all at once.
  • Do keep background distraction to a minimum when you want to say something to them.
One thing at a time
  • Don’t expect them to do several things at once (e.g. getting dressed, listening to you and with the radio on in the background).
  • Do support them to concentrate just on communication without other demands on their attention.

Speaking to the person

Speak slowly using key words

  • Key words are the most important words in a sentence and carry the information needed to understand the meaning of the sentence. You can stress key words by saying them louder or pausing just before you say the word.

Don’t say: “I think it’s about time for a cup of tea. Shall we have one now or shall we wait a bit?”

Do say: “Would you like a cup of tea?” (Wait for a response)

Use short simple sentences, give only one direction at a time

  • You can still say the same amount but say it in a number of short sentences with a pause in between.

Don’t say: “Can you remember where your shoes are? Go and fetch them and put your coat on. Put your red one on as it’s cold outside.”

Do say: “Get your shoes” (let the person do this…) “Get your red coat.”

Make the topic of conversation clear

  • Don’t change topic too quickly.

Do lead into the topic (e.g. “let’s chat about tomorrow night”)

Use gesture and pointing

  • If possible, when speaking, point to the thing you are talking about, or look at it. Get the person to follow your gaze or look at where you are pointing.
  • If necessary, gesture the use of the object (e.g. a combing action for a comb).
  • Use gesture and pointing in addition to speaking not instead of it.

Conversation is interactive, social and enjoyable

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