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HealthInfo Canterbury

Communicating with someone who can't talk

People who find it hard to talk after a brain injury or stroke can have a combination of two disorders: apraxia of speech and aphasia.

When you are communicating with someone who has difficulty talking, you will have to look for other clues – their body language – to understand what they are trying to say. They will also be watching your body language to try to understand you.

Useful nonverbal clues

communication2Facial expressions

We show our feelings on our face. For example, the person you are communicating with may smile when you smile – they know that this means you are happy.


This can include pointing to objects you are talking about, or using your hands to mime an action, for example lifting your hand to your mouth as if you are holding a cup as you ask "Do you want a drink?"

Tone of voice

Changes in the rise and fall of our voice give clues about what we are saying. For example our voice rises at the end of a sentence if we are asking a question; if we are angry our voice is usually louder; if we are reassuring someone our voice is usually softer. We can also stress words that are important in a sentence, for example, "Do you want coffee or tea?"

Practical tips for communicating

You might also find this dictionary of sign language useful.

Written by community speech-language therapists, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed December 2016.


Page reference: 121515

Review key: HISCD-79694