Speech Development: Simple Ways to Help Your Child With Pronunciation

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Speech Development—Because we are so very invested in our child’s development, and so eager for them to learn, it’s a fairly natural compulsion to correct them. When they put their shoes on the wrong feet, we fix it. When they put their toys in the dog bed, we redirect them. But how about when it comes to speech and language? How much correction is appropriate?

Giving a child vocabulary is a natural part of parenting. They point to a cow and say, “daw-dee!” And you reply, “No, not a doggie, it’s a cow! Moooooo!” The gentleness of this correction makes it almost invisible. And focusing your attention on language expansion (by giving them the new word and additional characteristics) instead of correction, there is no feeling on the part of the child that they’ve made a mistake.

In terms of speech development, there is essentially zero benefit to correcting the pronunciation of very young children. The way they produce sounds is directly related to their neurological maturation, so insisting that a 20-month-old say “bath” instead of “baf” is really only going to make both you and the 20-month-old pretty irritated. And the 20-month-old will probably be louder.

But what about when children are a little older? What about when your four year-old says “he doned it?” or says “pagetti” for “spaghetti”?

If the delays are very pronounced, or the errors so significant that you can’t understand what your child is trying to communicate, he or she needs to see a professional. But when it’s a handful of errors, or grammar that’s still muddled, actual correction becomes a bit tricky.

Between the ages of three and four, most of your correction will come in the form of purposeful modeling rather than correction. When your son says, “He doned it!” You say back, “He did it? Really? Did he do a good job?” When your daughter says, “pagetti” you say back, “Sssssspaghetti!” Or bounce the sound, “ss-ss-ss-ss-spaghetti!” You are providing a very specific model that gives the child the opportunity to hear the correct production without drawing attention to a mistake that might generate anxiety around communicating.

To help little ones develop sounds that are being stubborn, use an auditory bombardment technique. All this is is intense exposure to the target sound. If your son or daughter is having a hard time with the “k” sound, sit together on the floor with some purposefully selected toys and in an animated way that will hold their attention, say “Kitty kitty cat! Kiss kiss kiss! Kiss the kitty!” While the bulk of your child’s attention will be on the silly thing you are doing with the toy, their ears are getting a healthy dose of the sound that is being stubborn.

For kids older than four, you can actually start working some gentle teaching and correcting into your interactions. And we'll talk about how to do that next time!

In terms of speech development, what techniques do you/have you used to help correct your child? How do you help your child pronounce words correctly?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Lori is a speech-language pathologist and hosts the website Your Child Talking where she shares advice on speech and language for parents of both typically and atypically developing kids. You can also find her on twitter @YCtalking.

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