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Does your child have trouble saying certain sounds?

Have you tried correcting your child but he still says it wrong?

Many children have trouble saying certain sounds when they’re little, but as the age, they should become more clear.  Here are some guidelines to help you know if your child is on track:

  • 2-year-olds should be understood about 50% of the time
  • 3-year-olds should be understood about 75% of the time
  • 4-year-olds should be understood 80-90% of the time
  • Any child 5 years or older should not be having trouble being understood

If your child doesn’t meet these benchmarks, you should consult a speech-language pathologist.  But while you’re waiting to get in, or while you’re doing therapy, you can be working at home to teach your child to say a sound correctly.

Step One: Choose a Sound

First, you will need to choose one sound that your child is having trouble with.  If your child is having trouble with multiple sounds, I recommend you work on the same sound that your child is practicing in speech therapy, or choose the sound that is easiest for your child to produce.  You can also choose a sound that is typically developed in children earlier.  This chart will show you when children typically acquire certain sounds.

Step Two: Sound in Isolation

The next thing you will do, is help your child say the sound by itself.  That means that you’re just trying to get the child to say the sound, not a word containing the sound.  Start by just asking your child to repeat the sound after you, like “t…t….t” or “k…k…k”.  If your child is able to imitate it, move on. If not, you’ll want to try to help your child figure out how to form the sound.  Think about how you form the sound.  Think about where your tongue, teeth, and lips are.  Think about whether your voice is on or off.  Then, try some of these tricks:

  • Show your child how you make the sound in front of a mirror.  Have your child use the mirror to make his mouth look the same.
  • Describe to your child where to put his tongue, teeth, and lips to make the sound.

Here is a video showing examples of how to do this with the /k/ and /g/ sounds:

Resource: Elicitation techniques for all of the sounds.

Step Three: Sound in Syllables

Once your child can say the sound in isolation about 80% of the time, you will want to have him imitate saying the sound in non-sense syllables.  Take whatever sound you’re practicing and put it in front of a variety of vowels, like “koh, koo, kee, kah, kuh”.  Then, try putting the sound after a variety of vowels, like “uhk, ook, oak, eek, ack”.  The image above is an example of the sound spider I use for creating syllables.  You can draw one of these yourself!  Click on the image to enlarge it.

Step Four: Sound in Single Words

Once your child can imitate the sound in syllables about 80% of the time (be patient, this may take time!), you can move on to saying the sound in single words.  Think of words that contain the sound either at the beginning, middle, or end of the word.  You can download apps like “Articulation Station” that will provide you with pictures of words sorted by sound and position.  You will want to have your child imitate the words after you first with the correct sound.  Then, once he is more comfortable with this, you can show him a picture of the word and say “what’s this” to have him say the word by himself.

Step Five: Sound in Sentences

Next, you’ll have your child put those words in simple sentences.  Start with very short sentences at first and build your way up to having your child say the word in a longer sentence.

Step Six: Sound in Conversation

Once your child is able to say the target sound in all positions of sentences, you will want to try to help your child start remembering to say the sound during conversation.  Start with very controlled conversational tasks.  By this, I mean for you to sit down with your child and tell him that he needs to focus on his sound while he completes a task.  That task may be to tell you what he had for breakfast or play a game like “Go Fish”.  Then, once he is comfortable with this, start correcting him when you hear the sound produced incorrectly in regular conversation.  Start off just doing this every once in a while and then build your way up.

Keep It Fun!

The key to all of this is to keep it fun.  Do this while you’re playing game and celebrate your child’s triumphs.  And as always, make sure to consult a speech-language pathologist.  This information is intended to be used in addition to an SLP’s advice, not in place of it!