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  • Teresa Newmark, MA, CCC-SLP

How to Help Your Child Speak More Clearly


It is a fact that all children mispronounce words as their speech and language develop. Sound development starts with a baby’s first dinosaur-like utterances and goes through a complicated series of steps before adult-like pronunciation is mastered. For many children, this progression is a natural result of hearing language models in their daily life. Other children need the support of speech-language pathologists in order to become intelligible communicators. In this article, I will address three frequently asked questions related to speech sound development:

  1. How can I encourage my child’s speech-sound development?

  2. When is it appropriate to seek outside help for mispronunciations?

  3. What role does a speech-language pathologist play in encouraging better speech-sound development?


Encouraging Speech Sound Development

As I mentioned before, all children naturally “mispronounce” words as they develop their speech and language skills. If your child is developing typically, the best thing that you can do for his or her pronunciation is to give a good, salient model. If you are concerned about a particular word, focus on that word by repeating the correct pronunciation back to your child:


CHILD (pointing at a giraffe at the zoo): giwaff


YOU (smiling encouragingly and nodding): giraffe


The perfect outcome would be for the child to magically imitate that exact wonderful pronunciation back to you. This may not happen, and that is okay, particularly if your child is (mis)pronouncing words in a manner commensurate with his or her age. The point is to give your child the model and the opportunity. To step it up a notch, try this:

  1. Crouch down and have your child look at your mouth moving as you speak

  2. Elongate the individual sounds in a word

  3. Break down the sounds or syllables in a word (“g-i-r-a-ffe” or “gi-raffe”)

  4. Add a little something extra to make each sound or syllable stand out. For instance, clap once for each syllable.

  5. Keep it fun and stress-free. Learning speech and language is one of the great wonders of childhood and should be a positive experience for both you and your child.

  6. Repeat the adult way of saying the word again at the end:

CHILD: gi-waffe


YOU: gi-raffe, giraffe


You will notice that in all of these suggestions, you are telling your child what to say as opposed to what not to say. Let your child focus all his or her energy on the correct pronunciation. Without even realizing it, a lot of parents correct their children like this:


“No, it is not ‘gi-waffe’. It is ‘giraffe’. Say ‘giraffe’. ‘Giraffe.’”


This gives a young child a LOT of extra language to process before being able to comprehend the simple point that you are trying to make: It is pronounced: “giraffe.” Period.


When to See a Speech-Language Pathologist


When your child is not meeting developmental milestones, it may be time to consult with a speech-language pathologist who will be able to give you a plan of action based on:

  1. The extent of the delay or disorder

  2. The underlying reason for the delay or disorder.

The below chart is based on typical sound development for English language speakers, and it will give you some idea of how your child’s sound development is stacking up:


Speech Sound Development Age*

Word Beginning

Word Middle

Word End

2

b, d, h, m, n, p

b, m, n

m, p

3

f, g, k, t, w

f, g, k, ng, p, t

b, d, g, k, n, t

4

kw

d

f

5

ch, j, l, s, sh, y, bl

ch, j, l, s, sh, z

l, ng, ch, j, s, sh, r, v, z

6

r, v, br, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr, kl, kr, pl, st, tr

r,v

7

z, sl, sp, sw, th

th

th


Adapted from the Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation – 2 (2010)


*The age at which 85% of children in the standardization sample mastered a sound or sound cluster


For more information, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website to learn more about speech and language development and guidelines for when to seek help from a speech-language pathologist.


How a Speech-Language Pathologist Can Help


Speech sound treatment is tailored to the underlying cause of the disorder. A speech-language pathologist can help your child learn to speak more clearly by developing a plan of treatment based on the reason for the difficulty. The most common causes of speech sound disorders fall into two categories:

  1. Articulation Disorders: Articulation Disorders are speech disorders, meaning that they are related to the structures and muscles used in the production of speech. Some examples of speech disorders include apraxia, dysarthria, and cleft palate. Each of these speech disorders is treated differently.

  2. Phonological Disorders: Phonological disorders are language disorders that occur when a child has not internalized the language “rules” for his or her specific language. These rules dictate the sounds, sound clusters, and syllable shapes allowed in a language.

More information about the difference between speech and language can be found here.


The process of sound acquisition is complicated and amazing to watch. Enjoy it, participate, and if you are concerned, contact a speech-language pathologist for support.

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