Speech Issues

Speech Issues and Spelling: Do you notice that your child sometimes makes the same spelling error in many words? For example, for words with “th” your child may spell with an “f.” Or some children may leave out certain sounds, especially ones like “r.” If you see things like this happening, you will want to listen carefully to your child’s speech. Often the child is simply spelling the word the way he or she says it. If that is the case, you will want to do oral practice of words that contain the problem sound, and once the child is able to hear and say the sound correctly in words, try the spelling again.

Also, pay attention to yourself–are you pronouncing those sounds clearly and correctly? If you aren’t sure, ask someone else to listen to you. Also listen to others who the child spends a lot of time with and/or is particularly attached to (perhaps a younger sibling, or a grandparent, etc.). Children will sometimes imitate the speech of others in their writing, even though they themselves speak the sound properly.

F, TH, and V and other common speech issues: Some children have difficulty with confusing the following three sound/letter combinations: f, th, v. (Note that there are two “th” sounds: a “hard” sound as in “that” and a soft or “throat” sound as in “tooth” — it is the soft sound children are more likely to have trouble with).Here are some hints for ways to overcome these difficulties. (And you can also use the same kind of hints for other sounds you child may be confusing):

  • Ahead of time, make a list of words with each of these three sounds. You can do this over a period of 3 or 4 days, listening for words your child mispronounces and jotting them down. It is most effective if at least half your list are words your child has difficulty with already. If possible, include words in which each sound is found at the beginning, others in the middle of the word, and still others at the end of the word. Read each word aloud to the child (without the child looking at the word), and have him repeat the word (Do not “emphasize” the sound–just say the word normally). Make a note of words he has difficulty with, and jot down the sound he uses instead of the target sound (for example, he might say “toofbrush” instead of “toothbrush” or “ofen” instead of “oven”). If you can find or sketch pictures of the words, you can show the picture to the child, and have him name the picture; this way he isn’t copying you, and this may be an even more accurate way to discover his “problem words.”
  • You may also notice that your child may pronounce some words fine, while others he will mispronounce. It may be that the “mispronounced” words are commonly used ones he learned while very young, and the mispronunciations are not actually related to a “speech problems” but are long-time habits from early childhood. In that case, you can just focus on correcting the habits by gentle reminders and practice of the particular words.
  • If you notice that your child is mispronouncing a certain sound on a regular basis with most or all words that have that sound, it may come from holding his tongue and mouth incorrectly. You can make the sound correctly yourself, and note how you hold your tongue (top, middle or bottom of your mouth, close to your lips or pulled back, against your top teeth or bottom teeth or pulled away from your teeth); how you hold your lips (like a smile, or a pucker, or an “o”) and how you breathe as you say the sound. Then observe how your child is using his tongue, lips, and breath for the same sound. If you notice he is doing it differently than you do, explain and show him how you do it, and have him try it. Stretching the sound out will make it more obvious. To help him understand about the breathing, have him hold his hand in front of your lips as you say the word, so he can feel how you breathe as you make the sound. Then have him hold his hand in front of his lips and say the word in his usual way, so he can feel the difference. Have him try to copy your “correct” tongue and lip positions, and your “breath.” (Note that the “soft” and the “hard” “th” sounds are different, too!).
  • An activity specifically for the f/v/th confusion issues is to make four columns (f, v, soft th, hard th). Have your child say a given word, write the word in the correct column as he spells the letter sounds aloud (it is fine to have him copy the spelling–but saying the letter sounds rather than the letter names), and then repeat the word. By writing (touch) and speaking the sounds he is using different senses, always helpful.
  • If you have pictures for the words, you can cut them out, and again have your child say them, and place them in the different categories (in this case, do NOT spell the words–you only want to use graphics).
  • You can practice these “problem words” as a game with another player. For example, you can have your child play “Snakes and Ladders.” After rolling the dice, he picks up one of the pictures (or a word card), says the word correctly, and places it in the correct category on a piece of paper. (If you play with him, you can do the same–only sometimes you can purposely say the word incorrectly, or place it in the wrong column–and if he catches your “mistake,” he gets an extra turn and you lose a turn!)
  • Note that, as with any new learning (or correction of past “wrong” habits), the more ways you can “teach” and “practice” the concept, the more likely the child will “get it” and the more likely it will stay firmly in his long-term memory.
  • As with learning to read, “word families” are also useful for mispronunciation. So, if the child confuses “th” with “f” you can use a set of words (for example:  booth, tooth, Ruth) — and again make up amusing sentences (Ruth brushed her teeth with a toothbrush in the toll booth).
  • Also get a good book of tongue twisters (my “Easy to Learn” series of booklets has a good one!) and have your child practice certain sounds using tongue twisters! Most children really enjoy that!

Listening, read-aloud, and other tips: If your child’s speech shows difficulty with a certain issue, such as using incorrect tenses, or pronouncing “th” as “f,” keep your ear open during everyday talking and general conversation, listening for that particular issue and reminding him gently when he does it incorrectly. It is better to choose one issue at a time to work on, rather than try to “fix” everything at once. Also watch to see if he transfers the issue to his writing and if so, work with him on it there. Your child might find it fun if you copy a story, or read it aloud to him, and make the same “error” he makes–with the goal of “catching” your errors. When he hears and corrects others making the error, he is more likely to become aware of his own errors. If your child makes a consistent kind of error in his writing, have him read his work aloud. Ask him to read slowly and carefully, pronouncing each word as it is written; or you can slowly read it aloud to him; either way, reading or listening, he may well become more aware of his issue and work on correcting it.

“Baby talk” errors with simple frequently used words: Note that your child might make a certain kind of error frequently with 4 or 5 really simple words, yet almost never make it with other more complex words. This often goes back to speaking habits he developed when learning to speak (such as: I think I will use this new toothbrush to brush my teef!” — think, this, and even toothbrush are pronounced properly, but teeth is said as teef, a habit from early speech). You might put a picture of a small child on a piece of posterboard, and when your child makes one of these errors, just quietly point to the picture. Most children don’t want to “talk baby talk” (unless they are playing babies), and this may be enough to make the child aware and avoid those errors.

The nasal “n” sound: Some children have difficulty with the nasal “n” sound when it is combined with a following consonant or blend (for example with: trunk, munch, crunch, lunch, length, etc.). You can try this: have your child sound the first part of the word normally (tr-u), then have him pinch his nose to sound the n+consonant/blend (nk)–and it’s very likely the “n” in the combination will sound quite clearly. In fact, it may even sound exaggerated. A lot of children think this is very funny, so they enjoy doing it… and at the same time they get the feel for making that nasal sound, and can soon do it without pinching their nose! It also helps them remember the “n” when they spell the word.

If these simple ideas don’t work, your child may need some professional help from a speech therapist. Your school or your family doctor will likely be able to help you find this help. It is also possible that your child may have a hearing issue, so it is well worth having her ears checked.

Let’s help each other! Do your children have difficulty with particular speech sounds and/or transfer their spoken errors to their writing? What solutions have you found? Or can I give you some advice? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

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