Apart from conveying ideas and thoughts, one of the primary functions of language is to evoke senses. Sensory words help us with that. They invite other people into our feelings and memories through descriptive words. It is a classic approach of showing, but not telling that many of the good writers already do.
The effective use of language paints vivid images so people could relate to what you are trying to communicate with their senses; smell, hearing, touch, taste, and sight. Through sensory words, you invite the readers and listeners to what you are experiencing. You make your language burst to life.
We will try to understand what are sensory words and why they are important to us as parents and educators. We will also shortly discuss how sensory words can help children with learning disabilities.
What are sensory words?
Words that respond to our senses are called sensory words. They help us describe how we experience our environments. For this, we primarily use the words that relate to our five senses; sight, sounds, taste, feel and smell.
For example, words related to the visual aspects of your experience like colors, appearances, and shapes target the sense of sight of your readers and listeners. Words describing the textures relate to touch. Words describing sounds relate to the sense of hearing. Words describing the movements relate to the sense of motion.
A child with sensory processing disorder (SPD) may benefit greatly from sensory words in terms of learning about their own experiences as well as learning about other people. As a parent or an educator, you could use sensory language to gain new insights into your child’s behavior. Children cannot get out of their obstacles alone, and as a guardian, you help them understand their struggles and overcome them.
Children who are out-of-sync with their senses are unable to use information that they receive through their sensory organs. This out-of-sync-ness from your sensory skills is called sensory integration disorder. Sensory integration disorder is not one specific disorder. It’s a variety of neurological disabilities. We use all our senses simultaneously to do important tasks. We involve more sensory information the more complex the activity gets. That’s the primary reason children with learning disabilities struggle to function in their daily lives. And sensory words could play a part in achieving that sync.
For example, when we say “gentle breeze calms my aching head,” we are inviting others to experience the same ‘calmness’ through sensory evoking words.
Understanding how to use sensory words
Sensory words improve communication. They help us express our thoughts in more stimulating terms. We could aspire to be good writers and speakers by including more sensory words in our vocabulary.
Through a grammatical lens, sensory words have a range of variants and functions. They could be verbs, adjectives, adverbs, or even gerunds.
Verbs could act as sensory words if they express the qualitative aspect of an action. For example “a man is scampering across the playground.” Here the word scampering is describing how a person is walking with long, hurried steps. It is helping us see the tension in the scene.
Sensory adjective words modify nouns and verbs. For example, “an undisturbed walk across the playground.’ The word undisturbed carries an emotion that could help the listeners and readers to visualize how the walk is feeling to the man.
Sensory adverbs modify and describe action verbs. You could say “a man is furiously walking across the playground.” Here furiously is describing the man’s walk. You instantly get the idea about how he is moving.
Gerunds are verbs that act as nouns. They usually are tacked to their tails with an ‘ing.’ Gerunds teach us that we could use a stronger word to express a more complex emotion or experience. They could also act as sensory words. For example “a man is wailing”. Here “wailing” is used instead of simply crying.
Why are sensory words important?
The science behind sensory language is clear. Brain scans show us how sensory words benefit us in processing our daily experiences more vividly. The words stimulate our brains and help us understand other people’s experiences better.
Just by listening or reading the right words, your brain responds to the sensory words as if you are feeling the rough texture of an object. Your brain is capable of imitating the same experience of touch even without any real tactile sensations. Using sensory words makes your language more impactful and memorable.
We could also use sensory words with children with learning disabilities as a tool to efficiently describe our experiences and environments. They could benefit from a rich sensory language as they could hear, see, smell, taste, and feel the described experiences.
We use language to create multi-sensory experiences for our listeners and readers. The true magic of sensory words could be seen when we appropriately reveal our experience of the world to others. Sensory words are efficient tools to do that.
That is why we should pick our words with great care and precision. With this awareness, we will find various opportunities in our daily life to use sensory words almost everywhere. Using these powerful tools will ensure your message is not lost in this noisy world.