Speaking of speech
Updated: Feb 6, 2019
Speech, and how we talk, is actually extremely complex. Did you know the tongue is made up of 8 individual muscles? And the difference between a 'k' sound a 't' sound is merely millimetres difference?
No wonder it's hard for some children to get their tongue to do what it's told!
But even more interesting is the fact that knowing what to do with our tongue and articulators (jaw, lips, palate) makes up for less than half the speech difficulties we see in the clinic!
Many of the speech difficulties that children experience, are actually about understanding when to use different sounds. They might be able to say 'k' when you ask them to, but continue to say 'tar' for 'car'. They may even be able repeat 'car' after you, but 10 seconds later it's back to 'tar.' What's that all about?
This is a phonological process error. This means it's not an issue with making a 'k' sound, but an issue with how the word is stored in the brain. The stored pattern for car is actually 'tar'.
This is just an example of many speech processes and errors that we work with.
So what's normal?
By the age of 3, an unfamiliar person (aunt that visits occasionally, family friend or a new teacher) should be able to understand at least 75% of what a child says.
By the age of 4, an unfamiliar person should be able understand 100% of what a child says.
There are certain errors that children may have that are not 'typical' and that tells us they're unlikely to grow out of them by themselves. Speech pathologists know how to determine if a child will need extra support, or whether they may still grow out of them.
Why does it matter so much? When your child is participating in a kindergarten program or Prep, it's important that teacher's can easily understand what your child is saying. Being hard to understand can also impact the children socially- there is a lot of talking involved in playing with others, and sometimes not being understood gets in the way of this.
Even more important is research shows that children with speech delays are at a much higher risk of literacy difficulties when they are in school. The same underlying skills of hearing, processing, generating and organising sounds within the brain are essential for both successful speech production and literacy development.
Literacy development and speech
Reading and spelling involves understanding that words are made up of sound, and being able to accurately identify these sounds. Children begin to develop early literacy skills from a young age similar to developing their speech.
Early sound awareness skills that children develop before starting school (also known as phonological awareness or pre-literacy) include:
- Identifying the beginning and end sound in words
- Identifying the individual sounds that make up words (shirt = sh - ir- t); not to be confused with letters!
- Recognising rhyme (words that sound the same)
- Hearing syllables. Being able to break words into syllables help children to say longer words, such as 'helicopter'. You may have even already tried this! Many parents will naturally 'slow' a longer word down to help a child say it. It will usually be broken into syllables. Syllables are also critical for reading and spelling success!
So not only is a child’s speech production important for how well they can be understood, it plays a much larger part in developing their reading and writing skills.
What can I do right now?
Talking with your child, spending time with your child and playing with your child are the best things you can do. You won't even know just how much you're teaching them in those moments. Talk about what you are doing and what they are doing. Playing with sounds (brmmm, crash! shhhh, etc.) is fantastic too!
If you've noticed your child struggling with a particular sound, let's say the 'sh' sound as an example, try to use this as much as possible in your daily routine.
When you get dressed, make sure you talk about their shirt, shoes and shorts. Offer them the blue shorts or red shorts, with just a touch of emphasis on 'sh'. Instead of 'let's get dressed', talk through all the steps involved. Playing with the sound as well is also helpful. You can sneak around the house ready to scare their toys saying "shhh, shh, shh, shh, we're going to scare them!"
Another effective strategy is called recasting. Recasting involves repeating what the child has said, but with the error corrected. For example, your child says, "I saw a tat".
You can respond,
"I saw the cat too! The cat ran across the road, I hope the cat doesn't get hurt. I wonder where the cat came from?"
Recasting is subtle, easy and an effective method to help children learn new sounds and words. There is no expectation for the child to repeat, or try again. Instead, it bombards their ears with the correct production in just the right moment for learning.
When recasting, it is important to ensure that the naturalness of your voice does not change. For best results:
Recast as the opportunity pops up (e.g. when you hear an incorrect sound)
Provide slight emphasis on the target, but be sure you don't distort the word (e.g. 'puh-lease' for 'please')
Ensure the recasting interaction is conversational and engaging to the child so that it remains fun and the child does not lose interest.
If you're unsure about your child's speech development, it's best to get it checked as early as possible. At the very least, a speech pathologist can give you further tips and strategies to help them along the way.
Contact us to see how we can support your child further.