Working on Articulation

Lots of young children have difficulty with speech sounds. The most difficult sounds to produce are /s/, /z/, /sh/, /ch/, /j/, /r/ and /l/. These sounds often take longer to develop, and can make it hard to understand some children. Imagine how frustrating this is for the child and the person they are talking to! Here are some things that may help:

  • Slow down your own speech, so that your child slows down too. This may help them to place their tongue and lips in the correct position, or it may just give you more time to figure out what they are saying.
  • Face them and place yourself at their level physically to allow them to see the mouth movements you are making, and eventually to produce them.
  • Do activities that support your ability to understand your child’s speech – where the context makes it easier to figure out what they say. For example, look at a book with one big picture on each page with your child.
  • If you do not understand what they just said, ask them to repeat, slow down or show you. Sometimes it helps to ask them to say it a different way.
  • If you understand part of what they just said, repeat the part that you understood.
  • If you understand what they just said, repeat it correctly.
  • Practice any sounds that your Speech-Language Pathologist suggests daily. Practice them for a short period of time. Sometimes it helps to practice easier sounds such as /t/, /d/, /n/ or /l/ in order to get a more precise position for the tongue – this will help to develop more difficult sounds such as /s/ and /z/.
  • In general, you will practice sounds in isolation, then in syllables, then in words, then in sentences, and finally in conversation, but this will vary according to your child’s difficulties and what the Speech-Language Pathologist suggests for your child.
  • Practicing in front of a mirror makes it easier to see the movements required to produce the target sound.
  • Make it fun. If you can, integrate drill into games so that your child keeps wanting to practice. Working on speech may be a long-term commitment. Keeping your child interested and motivated is important.

Here is more information about what to do when you don’t understand a child’s speech, some suggestions for practice and integrating movement into speech practice.

I hope this post was helpful! If you have concerns about your child’s speech or language, please contact a Speech-Language Pathologist. If you live in or near Winnipeg, we at SpeechWorks Inc. would be happy to help. Good luck!

2 thoughts on “Working on Articulation

  1. Hi Stef,

    I have been reading your blog today with great interest! You touch on a few topics that I can really relate to.

    My daughter Ava is 4.5. She was raised bilingual (Eng & Fr) and for the past year has gone to a francophone daycare. I speak to her exclusively in English and my husband exclusively in French (and he and I speak English together). Ava spoke English before French, and is now equally fluent in both languages.

    Ava started speaking at a normal age (language really picked up at 18-20 months). Her vocabulary and use of language is excellent (to my ear) but her speech – in English at least – has always been difficult for people other than Gary and I to understand. I understand 95% of what she says; probably a complete stranger would understand 70%. She sounds quite a bit younger than her age. She has difficulties pronouncing /r/, /sh/, /th/,/ch/, /j/, /ng/ and sometimes /l/. She pronounces her soft e (as in bed) like u (as in bud). Blended consonants in general have been a bit of a struggle, but have improved a lot.

    I am not overly concerned, because I do think she will grow out of it in time. She has improved quite a bit since last year. In the meantime, though, she gets very frustrated when others can’t understand her speech or when I ask her to repeat herself. I have tried many of the strategies you recommend here (like repeating what I do understand back to her), which is very helpful/validating for her. I guess I am just wondering if we should be seeking professional intervention.

    Also, do you think part of her difficulties have to do with having two languages?

    Take care,

    • Hi Elana. Thank you so much for your comments and questions. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply.

      It’s great that you are raising your daughter bilingual. What a gift! We used to think that if a child was having difficulty with speech or language development, exposing them to more than one language would make things harder for them. I worked with bilingual children for 16 years and did not find that to be the case. Current research is supporting the idea that more than one language does not interfere with speech and language development – in fact, speaking more than one language is simply more exercise for the brain! Most skills develop equally in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilinguals, including bilingual adults, tend to have subjects that are easier to talk about in one language than in the other – for instance, some children who speak English at home and French at school can talk about food more easily in English and about academic subjects more easily in French. Metalinguistic skills – thinking and talking about language – tend to be easier to develop for bilingual children.

      A lot of the sounds Ava is having difficulty producing are often difficult for children her age. For instance, /r/ can take up to age 7 to develop (some speech sound charts indicate that it can take even longer). However, there are a few reasons I think it would be a good idea to get a professional assessment and then make a decision about intervention. The main reason is her frustration. Additionally, her difficulties with vowels are less common in children her age, and she is having difficulty with quite a few sounds. Finally, strangers only understand 70% of what she says, which is slightly lower than expected for a child her age. Generally, by the time a child is 4 years old, about 90% of their speech should be understood by strangers.

      If possible, consult with a Speech-Language Pathologist who is familiar with bilingual children, and is fluent in English and French. This will give you the best chance of having an accurate assessment, in order to make decisions about intervention.

      If you live in or near Winnipeg, please consider coming to SpeechWorks Inc. – I would be happy to help.

      Good luck!

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