As children learn to speak, parents often worry when children have trouble making certain sounds. For the more difficult sounds, children will often substitute one consonant for another, such as: “ffff” for “th”, or “da” for “the”, or “wa” for “la”. You may hear your child say, “movie feater” or “I wike dat” instead of “movie theater” and “I like that”. When children keep mispronouncing sounds as they head toward kindergarten, inevitably parents become more and more worried. Believe it or not, many of these issues can be corrected at home before involving a speech therapist.
As a linguist and a researcher, I am well-versed in many aspects language acquisition and development. So, one would think that when I realized that my son was having speech development issues, I would have approached the issue in a very sensible, academic manner. Absolutely not! Like any parent, I worried, became more stressed out over it the longer it went on, and even started obsessing about the many ways my son would be made fun of at school. I was surprised at just how much that worrying mommy side of me was overtaking the linguist. Once I realized how ridiculous my worry was, I began to work to correct my son’s speech issues in a very systematic way.
Sound production is all about exercising the oral muscles to get everything moving in the right direction. Sound production generally involves placement of the lips, tongue, and air flow. Children initially learn to speak by imitating what they hear. Through trial and error, they eventually begin to produce correct sounds. However, when a child mispronounces a sound – usually a consonant, it’s almost always because the tongue or lips are doing the wrong thing. The key is to retrain the oral muscles to the right thing.
Did I sit my son down in a classroom-like setting to work on his issues? No. Did I even point out to my son that he had issues, or was doing anything wrong? Absolutely not! I’m quite certain that he didn’t even realize that my home-based speech therapy was anything more than a game. It’s seems almost too simple because no special skills are required. As parents, all we have to do is listen and take a moment to focus two minutes of attention on the mispronounced sound, right at the time when the child produces it. It doesn’t matter whether you are shopping, playing, or hanging out at home. You can do it in the car, wherever and whenever you hear your child produce the particular sound needing correction.
Here are some helpful tips for helping your child produce the correct sounds:
- Observe and take note of the sounds with which your child is having trouble.
- Decide which sound you will work on first. Focus on one sound at a time. Once the child is correctly producing a sound on his or her own, then move on to the next one.
- When the child produces the targeted sound incorrectly, very casually have him/her repeat the word after you. Then, show the child where your tongue is placed, how the lips are shaped, etc.
- Model the sound for your child. Have the child repeat it.
- Now, use the sound in the same word your child used. Have them repeat it.
- Do this every time your child produces that sound
- Be happy, use rising intonation, give praise to the child for trying.
For example, consider this 30-60 second conversation:
Child: I wike candy.
Parent: You like candy?
Child: Uh huh, I wike candy awot!
Parent: Can you do this? La-La-La (opening mouth and exaggerating the placement of the tongue each time)
Parent: Nice try! See my tongue? Can you stick your out like mine and touch your teeth? Say La-La-La
Child: La-La (it takes child considerable effort at first)
Parent: Great job! Isn’t this fun? La-La-La
Parent : La-La-Like
Child : La-La-Like
Parent : Yay !! Can you say “I like it” ?
Child: I wike it
Parent: La-La-Like, I La-La-Like it
Child : I La-La-Like it !
Parent: I like it
Child: I like it!
Parent: A La-La-Lot
Parent : A-lot
Child : A –lot
- Draw fun attention to the sound every time your child uses it, until the child self corrects and eventually produces it correctly. You will be amazed at the process and the improvements you witness.
- When the child produces the sound correctly, give praise every time he or she does it, even if you’ve already moved on to focusing on another sound.
Over the course of about 6 months, my son’s speech completely turned itself around and all of the speech issues I mentioned earlier have disappeared. Our last conquest is the “R” which tends to be the most difficult. We are working on it and making it fun. We’ll see what happens!
If your child doesn’t show improvement, or becomes resistant to your efforts, it’s a good idea to consult a speech professional, such as a speech-language pathologist. Most schools offer speech services free of charge, so check with your school or school district.
Here are some helpful links:
What are your experiences with child speech? Please feel free to share!