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What is word-finding?

A word-finding problem is when people know the word they want to use but have trouble thinking of it when they want to use it. Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes. You might say the word is “on the tip of my tongue." Children with a brain tumor can have word-finding problems, and some may not even be aware of it. Some children may become upset when they are not able to say something correctly. It can also frustrate the listener because the child may speak more slowly or use the wrong words, affecting the meaning of the message.

What are the signs of a word-finding problem?

Every child's word-finding problem is different. However, there are some common patterns, including the following:

Pattern Example
Saying a word that is similar lion for tiger; spoon for fork; watch for clock
Using vague words or gestures saying, “stuff,” “thing,” or “that one” instead of saying the correct name; pointing to the object or acting out how the object works or is used
Talking around the word “you eat soup with it” for spoon; “where you get food” for grocery store
Saying words that sound similar or have some of the same sounds car for cart; dog for frog; chicken for kitchen
Using time fillers or pauses when talking “uh,” “um,” or “it’s a, it’s a …”; “wait… I know” while trying to think of the word

How can I help my child improve word-finding skills?

  • Read to your child or encourage her to read daily.
  • Name objects around your child or pictures in books.
  • Use riddles and have your child guess what you are describing.
  • Play games in which your child has to name items that belong to a category. For example, name as many colors as you can in one (1) minute.
  • Play “Name the Category.” You name several things in a certain category and ask your child to name the category. For example, “Blue, red, green are all ________?”
  • Play word games like “Pick the Word that Doesn’t Belong.” Here you could say, “cat, dog, tree, mouse.” You can also play word association games, asking, “Pilot goes with ….?” and having your child answer, “Plane.”
  • Have your child name items needed for a certain activity.
  • Work on naming opposites or words that mean the same thing.
  • At school, ask for accommodations (help in the classroom), like giving your child a “word bank” when taking a test and allowing extra time to complete a task or test.

What can I do to help when my child is stuck on a word?

  • Give your child time to think of the word. Do not try to finish her sentences right away because this can make her more upset.
  • If your child cannot think of the word and you know what she is trying to say, give her clues. For example, "It starts with …," "It sounds like …," "It looks like …," "It is used to …," or "It is like a …". Have her repeat the word back in the sentence to reinforce finding correct the word.
  • Tell your child to use an action, like holding hand to ear for phone. Also, encourage your child to picture how the object is used or how the word is spelled.
  • Tell your child to think of a related word or a word that means the same thing.


If you have questions about word-finding skills, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).