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Our thanks for this blog go to Olivia Ince, Talking Mats Licenced Trainer and Speech & Language Therapist. This blog post reflects on the use of a Talking Mat with a Thinker called M who speaks English as an additional language. The Listener in this Talking Mat is Jono Thorne who is a colleague of Olivia. Jono did this Talking Mat for his video as part of a Foundation Training course run by Olivia.

M is a young adult who came to the UK as an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child. M is from a country in Central Africa and speaks a language which is not widely spoken outside of the region. Accessing interpreting and translation services in the UK for their native language is very difficult and M has therefore had difficulties learning English. This means the people around M often have difficulties finding out M’s views, which is why Jono thought a Talking Mat could be an invaluable communication tool for M.

M already uses some visual support, for example hand gestures and using objects such as food items when having a conversation in the kitchen. The people around M are unsure what M’s level of comprehension is in English and therefore they make adaptions such as simplifying their language. M’s expressive language in English is typically the use of one- or two-word utterances and yes/no responses. 

To see if M would be able to engage with the Talking Mat process, Jono chose a simple topic to start with and one which he knew would interest M: food. The Top Scale used was like/unsure/ don’t like. Jono noted that M quickly understood the concept of the Talking Mat and the visual element seemed to support M’s understanding. The Talking Mat process including the side-by-side listening also facilitated rapport building.

Jono noticed that M was decisive and seemed certain about their placement of the option cards. The Talking Mat helped M to share their views on a larger number of items than would likely have been possible via a verbal conversation. M also joined in with the recap of their Talking Mat as part of the review and reflect by reading out the Option cards with Jono, which meant M was even more involved with the process.

There were a couple of difficulties for M during the Talking Mat process: the blanks and the option to change where the Option cards were placed. Jono tried to explain these steps using simple language but M did not appear to understand these concepts due to their level of comprehension of English. As M had seemed sure of their initial placement of the Option cards and they joined in with the recap, Jono felt that the Talking Mat was an accurate reflection of M’s views that day. Continuing to model these steps to M will likely help them to develop their understanding of these parts of the Talking Mats process over time.

Jono reflected on how useful it was to now know which foods M likes and doesn’t like. He also reflected on the potential future use of Talking Mats with M on more complex topics and to facilitate participation in decision-making now that it’s clear M understands how a Talking Mat works.

If you are interested in completing Talking Mat Foundation Training, you can read more about it here.

Manchester 30th June 2022.

It has been a long time since our Associates have been able to deliver training in a venue that is not virtual (to be accurate usually their kitchen / bedroom / garden shed). We are really pleased, therefore, to be able to let you all know that face to face training has returned! We know the convenience of online suits some people but many of you have been really missing the interaction, the energy and the discussion that occurs in a face to face training and we are looking forward to getting back to working with you in the same room.

It will be held in the St. Thomas Centre, Manchester on the 30th of June from 9.30am until 4.30pm. Find out more about what to expect on this course by following this link Manchester June 2022.

Talking Mats will take every step required to keep all participants and staff safe in this situation. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to support you to attend this course.

This course will be run by Laura Holmes, Lead Associate with responsibility for Foundation Training. She has been training with us since 2016. Here are her thoughts on resuming face to face training;‘I get so much out of face to face training; particpants form relationships quickly and really respond to each other and it creates a special learning environment.’

There are only 12 places on this course and we expect them to be taken up quickly.

To book please follow this link BOOK HERE.

The Talking Mats Foundation Training is a course that builds people’s confidence in using and applying Talking Mats to their work. Organisations can access this as a group ensuring staff can embed the Talking Mats approach and principles into their practice. The training also gives staff a common language for embedding a patient centred approach at the heart of a service.

We offer online training by;

  1. giving organisations access to our online training platform – this is designed as self-directed course, supported by a Talking Mats tutor, with a variety of activities and resources to support learning
  2. zoom/teams sessions
  3. a combination of both 1 and 2.

2020 saw an increase in organisations approaching Talking Mats for online team training and this has continued into 2021.  We will work with you to find the approach that best suits your staff group.

Online learning does not suit everyone and comments from participants are mixed.  Some really like the flexibility of being able to work at their own pace and find the site user friendly whilst others miss the interaction that face-to-face brings. As a team we miss the face-to-face training too but believe that our online training and the support we offer organisations is an excellent alternative.

It is easier to discuss the impact of an organisational course by giving an example. We recently ran a course using our online learning platform combined with short introductory and a follow-up session on Zoom for 24 staff working in an NHS Paediatric service.  Taking part on the course were Nurses, Psychologists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Dieticians and Speech and Language Therapists. It was great working with such a multidisciplinary group.  They all have communication at the heart of their practice and were keen to learn about a framework that could help them improve the effectiveness of their work.  There were different reasons for doing the course, but a common theme was wanting to have more ways of directly engaging and building relationships with the children they were working with rather than relying mostly on carer views. They wanted to be able to involve young people more meaningfully in some of the complex issues that surrounded their care.

It is always positive when a course has immediate impact and this staff group applied their learning in very different ways, for example Talking Mats was used to;

  • communicate with a young person with selective mutism,
  • involve a young woman who was self-harming to contribute to the strategies that help her reduce those behaviours ,
  • involve children in physiotherapy interventions.

One course participant said ‘I have practised with a couple of patients and it has made a massive impact on their lives already. One patient’s behaviours have dramatically reduced as I was able to support her to show how she felt about aspects of her care and resolve this.’ And another participant said ‘I have now used Talking Mats with a couple of young people with complex neurodevelopmental difficulties and this has helped engagement considerably, where things had felt stuck before’

An important part of Talking Mats training is to help participants think about their own communication style and how it impacts on interactions and relationships.  Staff said;

  • this course increased my awareness of my communication style and made me reflect more on how I communicate with my patients but also what I presume from my patients.
  • I am more aware of the communication demands I place on others as a clinician/therapist and am more confident in engaging people with communication difficulties.
  • It has made me think more about the language that i use during interactions.
  • It has definitely made me reflect on my own style of questioning, and helped improve my pacing and language skills. 

The feedback from this varied and engaged group of staff was positive and is summed up in this comment; ‘The course was very engaging, interesting, and easy to follow and understand. I have learned a lot from this. The reflective work throughout the modules really helped to connect the theory with the practice of Talking Mats. The course leaders were very involved, supportive and helpful!’

Our training is relevant to organisations working within Social Work, Advocacy, Dementia Support and Education as well as Health and Social Care.  If you think you would like to organise a course for your staff group please get in touch at to talk it through.