Complex sentence comprehension requires significant cognitive and working memory resources.
Imagine sentence comprehension as the understanding of several smaller parts of a sentence.
For example, in the sentence “The white fish swam toward a bigger black fish to try and scare it away.”, you have to understand many pieces of information in order to understand the whole of the sentence. You need to understand there is a smaller white fish, a bigger black fish, which fish is swimming at which, for what reason, etc…
To do all of this, your brain relies on working memory skills. Your working memory allows you to hold the auditory information in your mind long enough to understand it and connect the pieces together.
To boost sentence-level comprehension, it’s important to keep this complex process in mind. Strengthening individual foundational skills (ex: working memory, vocabulary, syntax) frees up the processing resources necessary for analyzing complex sentences.
Children with language disorders have less verbal working memory skills which reduces the ability to coordinate both storage (holding the sound of the words in your working memory) and processing (analyzing the words for meaning).
In fact, there is a specialized area of our verbal working memory system that assesses the syntax of a sentence. This area is crucial for helping us determine the meaning of every sentence we encounter.
If somebody told you a complex sentence or phrase you didn’t understand, one strategy you might use is remembering the sounds and words and repeating them to yourself a few times. While you’re repeating the sounds and words, you still might not even understand them. That ability to repeat what is said (without necessarily understanding) is the verbal working memory system at work.
While we hold the sounds in our working memory, we’re using all sorts of tools to try to understand what was said. Our brains might scan for word boundaries, familiar sentence structure, word endings we’ve heard before, or even words that we don’t recognize.
In addition to that, we visualize information to help process it. That means we make a visual (ex: an image, map, picture, diagram) in our brains while we read, write, talk, and listen. As we listen more or read more, we update that visual to match what we learn.
In summary, working memory skills are critical for complex sentence comprehension.
To directly targeting working memory skills, check out my resource Visualization Memory Challenge.
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Visualization Memory Challenge
This is a completely digital resource targeting the important skill of visualization using real pictures! It targets non-verbal working memory, vocabulary, and WH questions through an engaging, fun memory challenge!More Info
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