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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Communicating with someone who cannot talk

Te whakawhiti kōrero ki te tangata tē taea te kōrero

After a brain injury or stroke, people can find it hard to talk. Speech problems can also be caused by a progressive neurological condition.

The problems can be a combination of three disorders:

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

Useful nonverbal clues

Facial 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.

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Written by speech-language therapists, Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand Waitaha Canterbury. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2023.


Page reference: 121515

Review key: HISCD-79694