Word Retrieval Difficulties


This is a guest post by Cheryl Posey.  She is a licensed and nationally certified speech pathologist that focuses on Accent Reduction and Communication Skills Training.  You can find and follow her on her Speaking Your Best


We all have moments when we cannot think of the correct word we want to say.  These "word retrieval" difficulties happen to everyone from time to time, whether you are a native English speaker or not.  If you speak English as a second language; however, this may happen more frequently.  This is because your language skills may not be as fully developed as a native speaker.


Difficult Word Retrieval

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However, there is good news!  If you find that you are "stuck" and can't think of the word you want to say, try some of the following strategies to help you get past it.  


Name a synonym for the word you want to say

Think of a word that means the same or has a similar meaning to the word you want to say if you get stuck. 

Let’s look at some examples:

Example 1:  large, big, enormous, huge, gigantic are synonyms

There is a large pile of clothes on the floor.

There is a big pile of clothes on the floor.

There is an enormous pile of clothes on the floor.

There is a gigantic pile of clothes on the floor.


Example 2:  small, little, and tiny are synonyms

I found a small doll.

I found a little doll.

I found a tiny doll.


Describe the word you want to say  

Even if you can't think of the word you want to say, a description of it may help trigger your memory, or your listener will be able to guess it.  When you describe a word, try to include as many features of it as possible, including:  category it belongs to (fruit, car, clothes), it’s function (what you do with it), what it looks like (size, shape, texture, what it is made of, etc)

For example:

What's the name of the game we played the other night when we were at John's house?  I remember it was a board game with squares on it and red and black chips for playing pieces.  We had to move our pieces to the other side of the board to win.  (checkers)


Here’s another example:

The fruit I am trying to think of it small and oval shaped.  It is fuzzy on the outside.  You can cut it in half and eat the inside or cut off the skin.  You eat it raw.  It is green on the inside.  (kiwi)


Name the first letter of the word you want to say

Sometimes, we cannot seem to remember a word, but we know with what letter it starts.  Sometimes this helps you remember the word you want to say or, given the context it can help your listener guess the word.

For example:  I know the first letter of the word is “d”, but I cannot think of the word.  


Try thinking of an antonym for the word 

An antonym is a word that means the opposite of a word. 

Let’s look at some examples:

It is not big or large (small)

It is something that isn't smooth (rough)

It is the opposite of night (day)


In summary, we all experience “word retrieval” problems at one time or another.  It can be frustrating when they occur, but we have some strategies that can possibly trigger our memory of the lost word or help our listener say the word for us.  

Using the above strategies can be lifesavers, so try to use them when you get stuck.  It will help alleviate your frustration, anxiety or fear of speaking!


Question:  What do you do when you cannot find the word you are seeking? 

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