This post will address a question that I am often asked by parents, “how can I help my child with their speech sounds?”
Firstly, it is important to mention that in some cases children do not produce speech sounds correctly because they have difficulty hearing them. Before you can help your child with their sounds, you need to be sure that your child does not have a hearing impairment. If you are concerned about this, it would be beneficial to arrange a hearing test.
So how can you help your child with their speech sounds?
1. Speak using Your Strongest Language:
When you speak to your child in your strongest language (or a second language that you are almost equally fluent in), you are modelling the correct way to produce sounds in that language. By speaking to your child in your second or third language, you are likely to expose them to speech sound errors, perhaps even to ones that you are unaware of.
2. Increase Your Awareness:
It is very common for parents to be unaware of the speech sound errors that their child makes. Several times after I have first raised a child’s speech sound error to their parent’s attention, they have responded by saying, “I don’t know why I never noticed that they were doing that.” This is very common because you become accustomed to your child’s way of talking over time.
3. Increase their Awareness:
Most of the time when children produce a speech sound incorrectly, they are unaware of the difference between their production and the actual sound. Often this is because the people they communicate with daily have come to understand their speech, despite their speech sound errors, and so there is no apparent breakdown in communication. Making your child aware of the difference is crucial, and is actually the first step in most speech therapy sessions. You can make your child more aware by using volume, stress and repetition to emphasise the difference between their production and the actual sound.
Example: If your child says ‘dood’ instead of ‘good’, you can say, “the word is good… good… good starts with the g sound (make the sound) g...g… good, not dood… good ... g ...g… good.”
4. Binary Choices:
When your child says a sound incorrectly in a word, ask them to evaluate this by offering them two choices – one with the correct sound and the other with the incorrect sound. Often when children are presented with a choice, they will say the word that they heard last. You should offer the choices by saying the word containing the correct sound production first, followed by your child’s incorrect production. This way you will know if your child can actually identify the correct word. Importantly, this strategy will only work if your child can already produce the target sound, otherwise they will not be able to provide you with the correct response, even if they know it.
Example: If your child says ‘dood’ instead of ‘good’, you can offer binary choices by asking, “good or dood?”
5. Contextual Cues:
Provide your child with a context-related cue to the target sound. For instance, the ‘s’ sound is often associated with a ‘snake’ and the ‘ch’ sound with a ‘choo-choo’ train. Eventually, your child will establish the association between the target sound and the contextual cue.
Example: “Say that word again with your snake sound this time.”
6. Articulatory Cues:
Many speech sound errors are due to functional reasons; often the incorrect placement of the lips, tongue or teeth. You can help your child produce a speech sound correctly by showing them how. As you say the target sound, draw their attention to your lips, tongue and teeth. You can watch them produce the sound and focus on what they are doing incorrectly with their mouth. Do not be discouraged if they are unable to respond to your cues immediately, as with all habits, it will take some time to change.
7. Verbal Cues:
This is similar to ‘articulatory cues’ above, but involves you telling your child what to do with their lips, tongue and teeth. You can hold up a mirror in front of your child so they can see what they are doing in response to your verbal cues.
Example: If your child says a word with a frontal-lisp, by protruding their tongue between their front teeth, you can say, “try that word again, this time keep your tongue inside your mouth.”
When your child produces a sound incorrectly in a word, model the correct production of that sound to them. If your child is attentive during that time, encourage them to try to imitate your production. If they do not produce this correctly after three attempts, let it go to avoid frustration, and then try again the next day.
Children love receiving praise for their performance, especially when it comes from their parents. When you praise your child, be specific about what you are praising them for.
Example: “I love how you said that great ‘s’ sound.”
If you have any questions or comments that you would like to share, feel free to write in the section below.
The Expat Speechie
Chiman Estephan MSLP, MSPA, CPSP, ACAS
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