American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Weird Speech Tricks

Treatment Tip

I've been working with preschoolers for years and have discovered a few speech tricks that, for some children, seem to help them master the sounds when more traditional approaches don't work. I have no real explanation for why they work other than somehow they must change either the muscle positioning for the articulators or work around a discrimination "glitch." Here they are:

  • To get /r/ and /l/ productions in the initial position of words—I say the word as if it starts with a /w/ sound and the children say a perfect /r/ or /l/ sound at the start of the word. If I say the word with an /r/ or /l/ sound the child's use a /w/ or 'yuh' sound instead. So I call it my reverse technique—I model the word "wrong" and they say it "right." Over a few sessions they build the "muscle memory" for the /r/ or /l/ and suddenly they can imitate me saying it correctly.
  • Velars—for children who can't say the /k/ or /g/ sounds spontaneously, I've found they can sometimes say the /kl/ or /gl/ sounds in words easily. So if I model the word "cat" as "clat" they will often say "cat" instead of "tat." Is this a perceptual thing or does the slight /l/ placement they assume with their tongue stabilize the back of the tongue for velar lifting? Even if they do say "clat" in imitation of me, I've found that after practicing this blend for a while they are more ready to simply say "cat."  This trick is easiest with initial /k/ and /g/ words but I have used it with final words as in "backlepackle" for "backpack."
  • Coarticulation—I can get vocalic /r/ or inital /r/ with some children but not both. If I combine the two sounds together in phrases they soon are better able to do the one they have trouble with in a single word e.g. practice phrases such as "car-race" and "her-roses."

Submitted by Betty Tholl, MSc, SLP, of the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region-Therapies Department, Saskatchewan, Canada

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