Signs of a Word Retrieval Problem

"Well, we went there and then we did stuff…. you know…I mean...."

Have you ever listened to your child answer a question or tell a story that has little or no actual content? Your child just can’t come up with the specific words she needs or she talks in circles (i.e. she points to her headphones and says "music," but the word she really means is "download").

Word-retrieval difficulties are more common in people who have auditory processing and reading difficulties, as well as general expressive language problems. After a stroke, individuals may also have word-retrieval difficulties.

Here are some of the signs:

The individual substitutes a similar word.

  • They have frequent delays in responding.
  • They might frequently say "Oh, I forgot," or "I just can’t think of the word."
  • They have difficulty learning and using new vocabulary.
  • They use words incorrectly.
  • They can be quite entertaining and invent new words which aren’t real words.

For kids, a big giveaway is that they do well with worksheets that require recognizing or matching vocabulary words to definitions on the sheet. However, if there is no key of words to use, they will get stuck when they have to fill in the blanks and define words on their own.

A speech pathologist can assess and treat word-finding problems. If you have concerns in this area, request an appointment for a language assessment. We are able to provide these assessments at The Brain Trainer.

You can also work at home with child. Try these techniques:

  • Target only a few key words at a time. Let your child hear you and others use these words over and over again. Set up situations where your child can practice using the selected words.
  • Ask your child to visualize the words and create a story with them, including a lot of description or action.
  • If your child gets stuck on a word, instead of saying the word for her, ask her directed questions that will help her get closer to the word. For example, if she means to say "water," ask, "Is it something you drink? Does it come from the faucet? Does it also come out of the hose?"
  • Sometimes a sentence starter is helpful such as "you drink a glass of ______________"
  • You can also give two choices and let the child pick the correct one: "Were you thinking of soda pop or water?"
  • Sometimes you might need to offer help with the first sound of a word (w_____)

Games that help with word-retrieval difficulties include: Scattergories™, Password™, Word on the Street™, Chain Game™, Letter Roll™ and Smart Mouth™. Many of these games are available at the Brain Trainer in the Good for Your Brain Store.

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There are 3 comments, would you like to add yours?

  1. Bonnie Lemke
    June 19th

    Our daughter had speech therapy while in grade school. She is now 26 and has forgotten how to use “patterns” to process finding words and she is frustrated and thinks she is going crazy. How do you help an adult child remember how to retrieve her words faster without everyone thinking she’s nuts?

  2. Angela Coleman
    June 22nd

    Thanks for writing. While we all have moments where we just can’t think of a word, if this is occurring more frequently or is a new onset as an adult this should be reported to your physician.
    Strong word retrieval is so important for adults in the working world, because it allows them to explain their thoughts clearly to one another. It also is something that can make us stand out either positively or negatively in front of others. If we are able to state something fluidly and concisely our peers judge us as competent and intelligent. Likewise, if conversation does not flow smoothly and we are constantly searching for words, we become self conscious of our ability to be an active participant in the conversation we are engaging in. As you can see, word use is the biggest hammer in our thinking tool box.

    Word retrieval is strengthened by both memory and association skills. Targeting skills in these areas will help us maintain or improve verbal retrieval.

    Here are some simple suggestions for adults to keep their verbal tools in good repair.
    • Learn and use synonyms (i.e. a similar meaning word such as bright, luminous). You can practice this by choosing and using different words when you read a sentence or say something to a friend to whom you are speaking with. Ask yourself, how would I say that differently? It is more than acceptable to use a synonym if you can’t retrieve the word you had in mind.
    • Another accommodation to use when the targeted word just won’t come is to describe the desired object, action or person. Keep your description focused and concise.
    • Great games to help practice word retrieval skills are; crossword puzzles, Password TM, Taboo TM, Smart Mouth TM, Balderdash TM and Letterroll TM.
    • Role playing presentations and situations will assist with word retrieval of familiar topics. Over preparing will help you stay focused and confident.
    • Practicing verbal associations is helpful for word retrieval these include; completing category lists, antonyms( big – little) , synonyms (pretty – beautiful), words with multiple meanings (i.e. bank – financial institution and steep incline of river), analogies (fish swim and birds_____) and homonyms(fair – fare) with definitions.

    At the Brain Trainer we work to improve the cognitive foundation skills of attention, memory and speed. If you have concerns about your verbal retrieval skills contact the Brain Trainer (704-541-1373) to set up a Cognitive and Language Assessment.

  3. Bella
    November 26th

    What happens to these children when they grow up. We were never diagnosed as children but I have struggled with this all my life. My sister says all my siblings have this and it is familial. We have all done well professionally but it is a problem and more of a worry as we grow older.(within 10 years of retirement age but hoping to retire late)


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