Morphemes are the smallest parts of language that carry meaning. Some are “free”, like “cat” or “walk”… those aren’t too hard to learn. It’s “bound” morphemes, those tiny qualifiers like “-ing” or “-s” that can be added on to free morphemes that cause all the trouble! Bound morphemes are tricky, but they also play a BIG part in differentiating the meaning of language, so they’re important to understand. How can we help children with hearing loss master grammatical morphemes? A few suggestions:
Ling check, Ling check, Ling check! Before you begin, make sure everyone’s “ears” are on. Access to some grammatical morphemes, like the plural “-s” or possessive “-‘s”, require high frequency hearing. Just in general, frequent, daily Ling checks are a great way to spot check your child’s hearing. (What’s a Ling check? Click HERE)
Brown’s 14 Morphemes are the baseline of how linguists look at morpheme acquisition. See page 2 of THIS document for the ages, stages, and examples. See which morphemes your child has, and which are missing/inconsistent. This will show you where to start.
Okay! The ears are working, we know what we can do and where we’re headed… now — how can we make morphemes fun?
Acoustic Highlighting is the process of differentiating a target sound or morpheme from the rest of its linguistic context. This may mean more emphasis, a different tone, or different volume — anything to draw the attention to a certain part of the word. Once you decide which morpheme(s) to target, concentrate on highlighting them in your speech throughout the day. Be a broken record! It pays off! (For more on acoustic highlighting, click HERE)
You Be the Judge! For this, you’ll need you (the parent), the child, and a third participant who is willing to “play dumb.” The parent and the third person are the “students” and the child is the “teacher.” The teacher’s job is to judge whether or not his/her students are saying things correctly. So, if you are making a cookies, Mom could say, “I am stirring,” and sister could say, “I am stir”… then you turn to the judge and ask, “Who said it right?” The more dramatic, the better!
When Did it Happen? Many of the morphemes deal with changes in verb tense. Experience books or old photo albums can be a great way to talk about things in past tense. Future tense is a little more abstract and can be hard for any child to grasp. What about making a list of what you look forward to doing on vacation? Make a plan for what you will do tomorrow? Write out what you will buy at the grocery store this afternoon, etc.
Plurals: There is a big difference between one cookie and two cookies. Trust me. They’ll learn this one quickly.