Language acquisition is complex, but knowing how your child is acquiring language is an important tool to help them flourish! There are two main styles of language acquisition in children: Analytic Language Acquisition and Gestalt Language Processing (GLP). 

Analytic Language Acquisition (ALA)

While this style of language acquisition is believed to be more common, both styles are normal, natural, and can lead to language-rich and meaningful communication. In this style of language acquisition, children learn words as single units of meaning and then use them to create sentences. Children who are analytic language processors typically develop complex language skills in this order: 

  1. Use of single words 
  2. Use of 2-word combinations 
  3. Use of emerging grammar skills (e.g., “That mine!”)
  4. Use of first sentences
  5. Use of more complex grammar and sentences

If your child is an analytic language processor, your SLP may use traditional therapy approaches including increasing vocabulary, modeling expansions of a child’s language, 

Gestalt Language Processing (GLP)

In GLP, children learn “chunks” of language in phrases and sentences, then break down the meaning of those chunks into single words with meaning. These chunks are referred to as gestalts of language. If your child is a gestalt language processor, it is likely that they engage in echolalia, which is repetition of the phrases and sentences they hear to communicate. While all children use some echolalia to communicate (think of phrases like “It’s bedtime!”) gestalt language processors may also use single words that do not expand into longer phrases, long scripts from movies or television shows, rich intonation patterns, and unintelligible strings of language. Gestalt language processors may also consistently use phrases or chunks of language for the same communicative purposes, but it is hard to identify why they are using that phrase or what it means (for example, using a long phrase from a favorite movie every time they want to play outside). Children who are gestalt language processors typically develop complex language skills in this order: 

  1. Use of gestalt language to communicate
  2. Breaking apart large chunks of language into smaller phrases to communicate 
  3. Isolating single words, then using single words and novel 2-word combinations to communicate
  4. Use of emerging grammar skills in novel phrases 
  5. Use of advanced grammar in complex in novel sentences 
  6. Use of more complex and advanced sentences and grammar 

What happens next?

If your child is a gestalt language learner, your speech-language pathologist will help guide you and your family through supporting their language development. They will help your child learn, combine, and break down language chunks to foster meaningful communication. An important step in this process will be teaching your child easily mitigatable gestalts, or chunks of language that are easy to modify and change for context. For example, an easily mitigatable gestalt might be a phrase such as, “Let’s go!” because it will be applicable to many situations. Your SLP will work collaboratively with your family to find gestalts that are right for your child’s development, goals, and needs! 

In Summary…

Both gestalt language processing and analytic language acquisition are normal, natural ways of learning language. They simply require different methods of intervention and support. Your SLP will provide your family with resources and strategies that are functional and appropriate for your child’s unique language learning needs to foster meaningful communication and connection. If you think your child might be a GLP reach out today for an evaluation to work with our experienced clinicians.

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