A New Way to Teach Language to People with Aphasia

writing of verbs

What’s the best way to teach language to people with aphasia? Over 1 million people in the United States have aphasia according to the National Aphasia Association. Aphasia is a language impairment that happens when the language center of the brain is damaged from a stroke or hemorrhage. Because of this damage, someone with aphasia has difficulty finding appropriate words and building grammatically correct sentences.

Speech and language therapists help people with aphasia in these three ways:

  • restoring as much language as possible
  • teaching how to compensate for lost language skills
  • finding other methods of communicating. New research shows the best way to teach language to people with aphasia.

How to remember verbs

The research sheds light on the best way to help people with aphasia remember verbs. Neurolinguists from HSE University have confirmed that it’s easier to retrieve verbs that include several elements instead of verbs that have only one element. Here’s what this means: for people with aphasia it’s easier to remember a verb like “knit” because this verb has two elements. Someone knits something. It’s harder for them to remember a verb like “run” because this verb has one element. The boy runs.

For language therapy to work, therapists need to know which verbs are more difficult and which are easier for people with aphasia. It is traditionally believed that for people with aphasia, it is more difficult to work with verbs with two elements. But is this always true?

Svetlana Malyutina and Valeria Zelenkova are researchers from the HSE Centre for Language and Brain. They found that for people with aphasia, a verb with two elements is actually easier to remember. That’s because the verb has more connections to other words. A verb like “read” is easier to remember because you’ll say, “The boy reads the book.” A verb like sit is harder to remember because it has only one element.

Facts on the research

The researchers worked with 40 people with aphasia.  They found that when retrieving single verbs, people with aphasia responded more accurately and faster when the verbs had two elements.

Then they gave the participants another task. They had to produce a sentence with the verb. Here, the traditional view was confirmed: verbs with a more complex argument structure caused more difficulties. That’s because these verbs require building a more complex grammatical structure in a sentence.

The bottom Line on how to teach language

This is what the bottom line means:

  • Verbs which have two elements like (‘to knit’, ‘to cook’, ‘to watch’, ‘to read’) should be used when teaching verb retrieval.
  • Verbs with one element (run, sit) should be used when teaching how to build a sentence.

Nearly 180,000 Americans acquire the disorder each year. This research goes a long way to helping them learn how to communicate.

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