Skip to content

Gestalt Language Processing

Why does my child repeat everything they hear? 


We’ve all seen it. The dreaded moment when a toddler is beginning to acquire language, and they repeat something they really shouldn’t. It happens to the best of us. And it happens in every family, whether people care to share the story or not! For most toddlers, repeating everything they hear is considered a typical part of the developmental process. They’re learning and using more words every day. They’re testing what they can say and what they can’t. They want to communicate! 


Did you know there are different ways to process and learn language? Analytic Language Processors follow the +1 rule: Children learn one word, use two-word combinations, start to create 3-4-word utterances, and then develop early sentences and more complex sentences and grammar. Gestalt Language Processors do the reverse. First, they learn large chunks of language (i.e., “I see a Lion”) and need help breaking those phrases/sentences into smaller units to develop meaning once they know grammar rules. Eventually, the goal is for a child to create their own complex spontaneous utterance other than repeating phrases and sentences they’ve heard (the same goal as analytic language processors). 


How is this different from echolalia?Echolalia is the repetition of utterances produced by others. Think “Echo”lalia: your child echoes everything they hear, from your frequently used phrases to Youtube videos to lines from often watched TV shows. On the other hand, Gestalt is a style of language development. Speech therapists have used the word “echolalia” for years to describe the way Gestalt Processors communicate. Through research, we have now discovered that Gestalt Language follows a specific pattern of language development using echolalia. So basically, our therapy techniques have been treating Gestalt Processors this entire time! 


How can I identify if my child is a Gestalt Language Processor? Gestalt Language Processors are what Alexandria Zachos, MS CCC-SLP/L calls “Intonation Babies .”They hear the melody of language. Their basic units are “chunks”. Their chunks use echoes (echolalia). The tricky part is finding the meaning (see example below). But through context, knowing your child, and some speech therapy (of course), these Gestalt Processors can begin to mitigate (break apart the chunks) and move to create complex sentences with less reliance on echolalia to communicate what they want.visual for how Gestalt Language Learners learn language