What Parents Need to Know About Speech Pronunciation for Kids
Learning about the signs and causes of speech disorders will empower parents to take steps early to help their children improve pronunciation.
Types of Speech Disorders
Functional speech sound disorders are speech errors of unknown cause and include articulation disorders and phonological disorders. Articulation disorders focus on errors in pronunciation of individual speech sounds; errors may include distortions and substitutions. Phonological disorders focus on predictable, rule-based errors that affect more than one sound; errors may include fronting (when sounds that should be made in the back of the mouth are moved to the front), stopping, and final consonant deletion.
Organic speech sound disorders, which include childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) and dysarthria, result from underlying causes such as motor, neurological, structural, sensory, or perceptual issues. CAS occurs when messages from the brain fail to travel to the mouth, making it difficult for the child to move their lips or tongue correctly. Dysarthria occurs when brain damage causes weak muscles; it may occur with apraxia.
Signs and Symptoms of Speech Disorders
Symptoms of functional speech sound disorders include omissions/deletions (excluding certain sounds), substitutions (substituting one or more sounds), additions (adding one or more extra sounds to a word), distortions (altering or changing sounds), and syllable-level errors (deleting weak syllables).
Children with CAS may place stress on the wrong syllable or word, distort or change sounds, struggle to say longer words, and pronounce the same word in different ways. Children may have dysarthria if they talk too fast or too slowly, slur or mumble their words, speak softly, produce robotic or choppy sounds, or struggle to move their tongue, lips, and jaw.
Activities Parents Can Use to Teach Pronunciation
Parents can introduce fun activities according to the child’s age and speaking skills to help address various speech impediments.
Speech Pronunciation Exercises and Learning Activities for Kids
When teaching kids pronunciation, parents should focus on sounds (vowels, diphthongs, and consonants), stress (where the accent is placed on syllables), and intonation (raising and lowering of the voice). Secondary aspects of speech parents can teach include volume, pitch, pause, and pace.
Parents can teach beginner-level pronunciation using speech pronunciation exercises and activities. For instance, popular songs such as the “Happy Birthday” song help kids naturally learn pronunciation. Nursery rhymes, accompanied with music, can teach kids proper timing, stress, and intonation.
Repetition can also help, as asking a child to repeat a word will help create a permanent memory. Parents can use the minimal pairs exercise, where replacing consonants or vowels in words can help kids recognize differences in words. They can also use easy and relevant vocabulary, since teaching words according to context can help kids understand meaning and proper use.
Intermediate-level activities may involve recording and replaying the child’s speech to help them identify mistakes and make improvements, showing a child how their mouth moves in a mirror to teach proper articulation and the nature of various sounds, and teaching kids how to identify specific sounds from word pairs and groups (auditory discrimination).
Children learning advanced speech pronunciation can engage in chants, which can help teens or preteens understand how intonations differ in statements, exclamations, and questions. They can also practice connected speech, which shows them when to connect words (such as in “black-coffee,” rather than pronouncing two separate /k/ sounds). They can also try repeating tongue twisters.
Helpful Tools and Professional Speech Therapy
Parents also have access to online tools and apps created by professional speech and language pathologists to help children learn speech in a fun and relaxed environment.
Speech Pronunciation Games for Kids
The Articulation Games app was created for children by a certified speech-language pathologist to practice the pronunciation of over 40 English phonemes (single sounds that are part of the phonetic system). The app includes thousands of flashcards, professional audio recordings, and matching games.
The Fun with R app was created to help kids learn to produce the “r” sound and includes over 2,000 audio-recorded words that contain the “r” sound and “r” blends.
The Articulation Station app was created for children by a certified speech-language pathologist to help kids learn to speak and pronounce words clearly. It includes high-quality images and activities covering various word, sentence, and story levels.
Children who need help learning nouns, verbs, prepositions, and adjectives should try Splingo’s Language Universe. The app includes thousands of different word and sentence possibilities and a range of language development options.
ArtikPix is an entertaining articulation app with matching activities created for children with speech impediments. Up to 24 card decks (with 40 cards each) can be selected by sound group, combined, or practiced with flashcard and matching activities.
When to Seek Professional Speech Therapy
Children may need professional speech therapy if they don’t meet speech development goals for their age. For example, children ages 12 to 15 months who can make only a few sounds, haven’t spoken their first words, or are unable to wave, point, or make other gestures may have fallen behind most of their peers.
Children ages 18-24 months should be able to use two-word combinations regularly, pronounce endings of words, and communicate their desires verbally rather than by pointing or grunting.
Concerning signs that children ages 2-4 years may exhibit include struggling to put two- and three-word combinations together, producing mostly unintelligible sounds, and having a vocabulary of fewer than 50 words.
Children ages 4-5 years may need professional speech therapy if they repeat the first sounds of words, are unable to follow simple classroom directions, or constantly repeat sounds or words.
Meeting Speech Pronunciation Goals for Kids
Parents should consider seeking professional help if at-home activities don’t produce adequate results. A professional speech-language pathologist can help children improve pronunciation and reach an age-appropriate level.