What is word retrieval (or word finding)?

At a glance

  • Word retrieval (also called word finding) is a key skill for communication.

  • When people choose specific words to communicate their ideas, they’re using word retrieval skills.

  • People who struggle with word retrieval often have trouble finding the right word for what they want to say or write.

When we talk or write, we choose specific words to communicate what we want to say. We choose words to “paint a picture” of the story we’re telling. This skill is called word retrieval (or word finding).

The terms word retrieval and word finding make a lot of sense. We’re trying to find the right word, or retrieve it from our brain. And when that word doesn’t come out or we can’t remember it, we’re having trouble with word retrieval. This can happen even if we know a word well and use it often.

It’s kind of like looking for a book in a library that doesn’t have a good filing system. Even if you know what the book looks like, you have to search all the shelves to find it.

To have trouble with word retrieval, a person must know the word already. You can’t use a word that you never learned. It’s when you know the word, but can’t pull it up, that you have a problem. 

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