Word Finding Difficulties

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Definition and Characteristics of Word Finding Difficulties

Definition

Students challenged with word finding have difficulty retrieving words in the presence of good comprehension of the words that they are unable to find. They appear not to know answers when in reality they know, but are unable to express their knowledge. These students may exhibit problems retrieving specific words in single word retrieval contexts and in discourse.

Single Word Retrieval Contexts

Students have difficulty retrieving specific words such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, dates, numbers, etc. In the classroom they have difficulty responding to questions that require retrieval of specific facts. Even though they know the information, they may have difficulty relating character names, locations, dates, or other specific facts from a story.

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Discourse Retrieval Contexts

Students with word finding difficulties in the discourse context have difficulty relating experiences and events. Their discourse may be brief and/or contain a high incidence of word finding behaviors such as word repetitions, word reformulations (revisions), substitutions, insertions, empty words, time fillers and delays.

Characteristics

The characteristic behaviors of children with word finding difficulties varies depending on whether they are engaged in single-word retrieval tasks or retrieval in the context of a discourse. This section of the web site highlights characteristics of word finding difficulties in these two communication contexts. In addition this section provides references that present characteristics of word finding difficulties.

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Single Word Retrieval Contexts

The language patterns of students with retrieval difficulties in single word retrieval contexts are typically described with respect to their:

  • accuracy and speed in retrieval,
  • unique response substitutions, and
  • secondary characteristics.

    Accuracy and Speed Profiles
    Students with word finding difficulties may be described as either inaccurate retrievers or slow retrievers or both. They may indicate one or all of the profiles below when answering questions in class or on tests that require the retrieval of single words or specific facts.

    # Profile 1: slow (4 sec. delay) and inaccurate retrievers
    # Profile 2: fast (no delay), but inaccurate retrievers
    # Profile 3: slow (4 sec. delay), but accurate retrievers

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    In response to the question, "What do we call the 4 for the term 4 x?" (coefficient), students with word finding difficulties may say:

    Time & Accuracy Profile Behavioral Response
    Profile 1: slow and inaccurate retrievers ...."exponent" for coefficient (4 sec. delay)
    Profile 2: fast, but inaccurate retrievers "exponent" for coefficient (no delay)
    Profile 3: slow, but accurate retrievers ...."coefficient" for coefficient (4 sec. delay)

    Unique Response Substitutions
    Students with word finding difficulties also produce unique responses when they have word finding difficulties. These responses usually indicate some knowledge of the target word's meaning or form (sounds). They, thus provide insights as to potential disruption points in the lexical process that may underlie student's word finding errors (German, 2000; McGregor, 1997). Examples of response substitutions are highlighted in the Table: Unique Response Substitutions. Students may produce responses in one or all of the categories indicated in the Table.
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    Response Substitution Category Definition Example
    Semantically Related Substitution Substitution of words that are related to the target word in meaning. "exponent" for coefficient in Math
      Substitution of words that frequently co-occur with other words in a sentence or in a content area. "light switch" for light bulb in a sentence
    Form Related Substitution - Type 1 A failure to retrieve any of the sounds of the target word. silence or "IDK"
    Form Related Substitution - Type 2 Substitution of words that share some of the same sounds as the target word. "complement" for continent in Social Studies
      A Substitution  that represents only some of the sounds of the target word. "circumer" for circumference in Math

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Secondary Characteristics

Students with word finding difficulties may also produce secondary characteristics when they have word finding difficulties. These secondary characteristics often indicate a learner's knowledge of a target word's meaning and/or a target word's form. Typically, two types are observed: gestures and extra verbalizations. Each is described in the table below.

Gestures


Two types of gestures are often observed when students have word finding difficulties: iconic gestures and gestures of frustration.

Secondary Characteristics: Gestures Description Example
Iconic Gesture A mime of the target word's function or of an action associated with the target word. Mime writing for the target word "pencil."
Gesture of Frustration Any non-verbal indication that the student is searching for the target word. Finger snapping or eye blinking or rolling
Extra Verbalizations


Two types of extra verbalizations are often observed when students have difficulties with word finding: metalinguistic comments and metacognitive comments.

Secondary Characteristics:
Extra Secondary Characteristics:
Extra Verbalizations
Description Example
Metalinguistic Comments These comments refer to statements made by the student that indicate knowledge of the target word sounds or length. "It starts with a b" for binoculars or "it is a long name" for Mississippi.
Metacognitive Comments These comments refer to statements made during a word finding block that are focused on the retrieval process itself. "I know it, but I can't think of it" for 'habitat' in Science


Back to Top Discourse Retrieval Contexts

Students with word finding difficulties in discourse typically have difficulties participating in a conversation, relating an experience or event, or telling what happened in a story. Two distinct profiles of spontaneous language differentiate children with word finding difficulties (German, 1987; German and Simon, 1991).

  • Profile 1: adequate language productivity (defined by the number of sentences and words produced) with high incidence of word finding behaviors, and
  • Profile 2: low language productivity, with either low or high incidence of word finding behaviors.

Language behaviors that differentiate children with word finding difficulties from those without word finding difficulties are presented in the Table below.

Table: Types of Language Behaviors in Discourse

Type of Language Behavior
in Discourse
Example
Word and Phrase Repetitions "He ate all, ate all, the pizza.
Word Reformulations (revisions) "She played, he ran the race."
Target Word Substitutions "He looked through his camera (binoculars) to make it closer."
Empty Words (do not add content) "Oh well, you know what they call the winner."
Insertions "He is looking through his uh, uh, I can't think of its name."
Time Fillers "um um. He is playing ...um.. the ...um ER...the flute."
Silent Delays (6 seconds) within a sentence "Bob said to bring your......work, project to display."


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References for Characteristics of Word Finding

Constable, A., Stackhouse, J., & Wells, B. (1997). Developmental word-finding difficulties and phonological processing: The case of the missing handcuffs. Applied Psycholinguistics, 18, 507-536.

German, D. J. (2001). It's on the Tip of My Tongue, Word-Finding Strategies To Remember Names and Words You Often Forget, Chicago, IL:Word Finding Materials, Inc. Order from www.word-finding.com

German, D. J. (2000). Chapter 1, Basic concepts in child word finding. In German, D. J. Test of Word Finding-Second Edition, Examiners Manual. p.1-15. Austin,TX:Pro.ED.

German, D. (1994). Word-finding difficulties in children and adolescents; in Eds. G. Wallach, & K. Butler; (Eds.), Language learning disabilities in school-age children and adolescents: Some principles and applications (pp. 323-347). New York: Merrill.

Lahey, M., & Bloom, L. (1994). Variability and language learning disabilities. In G. P. Wallach & K. G. Bulter (Eds.), Language learning disabilities in school-age children and adolescents: Some principles and applications, (pp. 354-372). New York: Macmillan.

Lerner, J. (1997). Learning disabilities: Theories, diagnosis, and teaching strategies (8th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Lerner, J. (2000). Learning disabilities: Theories, diagnosis, and teaching strategies (8th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Nelson, W.N. (1998). Childhood Language Disorders in Context: Infancy through Adolescence . (2nd ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Nippold, M. (1992). The nature of normal and disordered word finding. Topics in Language Disorders, 13 (1), 1-15.

Smith, C. R. (1991). Learning disabilities: The interaction of learner, task, and setting. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Wiig, E. H., & Semel, E. M. (1976). Language disabilities in children and adolescents. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

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 ©2000 - 2012 Diane G. German, Ph.D.
Last updated January 2012