As a Speech Pathologist I often see children who are sent by kindy or preschool teachers, because their speech is difficult to understand. This may be called poor articulation or expressive language difficulties or disorder. There are a number of possible causes.
There may be sounds that they cannot actually make that are needed for speech, or sounds may not be clear and accurate. Sometimes some sounds are substituted by other sounds.
These children need a thorough assessment by a Speech Pathologist, to identify whether there are underlying issues that need professional management, and to teach them how to speak so that other people can understand them. The earlier intervention happens, the better. If children are delayed with their language development it can take some years for them to catch up.
However, all children, at some stage while they are learning to talk, are not clear with their speech. Some errors of articulation are quite normal and will eventually disappear in most children.
It is still important to encourage your child to be as clear with articulation as possible. The more successful they are with their speech, the more chance they will have to interact and practise their communication skills with other people, both adults and their peers.
By the time children go to kindy they need to be able to be understood by most people, most of the time.
Here are my top tips for helping children to speak clearly.
1. Think about how you speak to your child. Speak slowly and clearly, and repeat phrases a number of times. This is especially important if your child is having difficulty making accurate sounds or words – keep your sentences and phrases short and simple.
2. Exaggerate the tune (intonation) in your voice, all the ups and downs in pitch that we use in normal speech. Exaggerate the important words and the stronger syllables in words.
3. When your child makes an error, firstly acknowledge what she is trying to say (her message) and then repeat it, modelling the word or phrase correctly. Occasionally you can ask her to have a go at saying it correctly, if this is achievable. However, you need to choose your times, and avoid constant ‘correction’.
4. When you know that your child can say a word correctly, you can pick her up on it when she says it incorrectly. Don’t always tell her how to say it. Instead give her a choice: “Is it… or… ?”
5. From the time your baby is tiny, encourage a good memory for sound by singing and saying lots of nursery rhymes and action songs. Introduce new ones along the way and repeat the earlier ones. Repeat favourite stories.
Above all, enjoy communicating with your child and show her that you enjoy it. Always listen when she talks, and respond, so that she learns that speech is useful and powerful. Praise her attempts highly, and make talking and singing lots of fun.