Adjusting Language for Different Audiences

In general, after waking up in the morning, children and adolescents interact with their parent(s) or caregiver(s) and siblings. They may also act as a friend as they walk to school or wait at the bus stop with their peers. As they arrive at school they assume the role of student. As students, they must interact with teachers and administrators, support staff, security guards, etc. Throughout all these interactions, students need to consider the audience, or person that they are interacting with.

Students who are able to adjust their language in response to the current audience practice one of the most sophisticated verbal pragmatic functions, code switching. We don't use the same language or speak in a similar manner with our parent(s) or caregiver(s) as we do with our friends; and we speak in a different voice when we are interacting with someone in authority (e.g., teacher, principal, or policemen). To effectively engage in code switching, students must devote attention to the processing and production of language (i.e., code), as well as to the fluent and appropriate use of the language of the particular audience. The ability to identify the audience and respond with the most appropriate code is a skill that we will utilize our entire lives.

Here are some strategies to help students develop their ability to use language effectively for different audiences.

Helpful Hints

  • Students may need to improve their ability to modify both the content and the delivery of their interactions – that is, both what they say and how they say it. Use role-play situations to help students develop these skills and structured opportunities for them to practice with school personnel.
  • Students may benefit from examining the consequences of failing to switch conversation codes. Activities where students can play with language might include role-play activities and writing plays or short stories.
  • Students may need to develop an understanding of the language of their peer group to interact more effectively with their classmates.
  • Guide students in identifying the conversational styles expected from different audiences (friends, librarian, etc.). For example, have students complete the following chart, writing down the language that they can and cannot use with different groups.
Audience Can Say          Cannot Say      
1. Friend    
2. Teacher    
3. Bus Driver