Speech-language Newsletter: October

Improving speech intelligibility

How To Improve Speech Intelligibility by Jaclyn Schneider

    It can be frustrating for both parents and child when a child’s language is difficult to understand! During preschool and school-age years, a child’s language is expanding and he is using more words to request, exclaim, and to label. Parents will often guess at what their child is saying, and unfamiliar adults may rely on parents to decipher their child’s speech. Many times children will throw tantrums or give up when trying to communicate. See below for some helpful tips to improve your child’s intelligibility and your understanding!

Rate: An increased rate of speech leads to more words blending together and doesn’t always give the listener enough processing time to take in all of the information. If your child has an increased rate of speech, encourage him to slow down and try again. Multisyllabic words may get simplified (e.g., “tephone” for “telephone”), leading to further difficulty for the listener. Modeling your own slow rate will allow your child to match your speech.

Volume: Using appropriate volume depending on a situation may help to improve intelligibility. Oftentimes children’s voices will be too loud or too soft, making them difficult to understand. Contrast different volumes with your own voice (no voice, whisper voice, inside voice, outside voice), and allow your child to pick the appropriate volume based on a situation.

Speech sound substitutions and errors: Sound substitutions, omissions and errors frequently impact a child’s intelligibility. There are set milestones for speech sound acquisition, however substituting one sound for another (e.g., saying “wing” for “ring” or “fumb” for “thumb”) can leave parents guessing at what their child is saying. In these cases, parents can model accurate sound production (based on age), and overcorrect, or emphasize target sounds.

If a child continues to struggle with speech intelligibility and either child or parent is getting frustrated, a licensed speech-language pathologist can help!

What is an Articulation Disorder? By Julie A. Daymut, M.A., CCC-SLP Super Duper Handouts

Speech sound production is a complex process that involves precise planning, coordination, and movement of different articulators (such as the jaw, lips, teeth, tongue, palate, cheeks, and “voice box”). Correct articulation produces clear speech. Another name for clear speech is intelligibility. Errors in speech sound production are known as articulation errors. Articulation errors are common in children when they first learn to speak.

An example of this is a toddler who says “wabbit” for “rabbit.” Most children eventually outgrow such speech errors, which are a normal part of learning to produce new sounds. (Note: Regional dialects, such as a “Boston /r/”, are not articulation errors.) When a child demonstrates articulation errors beyond those of typical development, he/she may need to see a speech-language pathologist (SLP). The SLP evaluates the type of error(s) the child is making and may develop an intervention or therapy plan. In speech/language sessions, the SLP teaches the child how to make the sound. He/she shows the child how to move the articulators, what type of sound it is (a “whistly” sound versus a “stop” sound, for example), and whether to turn voice on or off.

A child can make the following articulation errors when producing speech sounds: Substitutions, Omissions, Distortions, and/or Additions. An easy way to remember these is to use the acronym SODA!

S – Substitutions Definition: Replace one sound with another sound. Examples: “wed” for “red,” “thoap” for “soap,” “dut,” for “duck”

O – Omissions (also known as deletions) Definition: Omit a sound in a word. Note: This error affects intelligibility the most, making speech more difficult for the listener(s) to understand. Examples: “p ay the piano” for “play the piano”, “g een nake” for “green snake”

D – Distortions Definition: Produce a sound in an unfamiliar manner. Examples: “pencil” (nasalized—sounds more like an “m”) for “pencil,” “sun” (lisped—sounds “slushy”) for “sun”

A – Additions Definition: Insert an extra sound within a word. Examples: “buhlack horse” for “black horse,” “doguh,” for “dog”

What causes articulation disorders?

For most children, the cause of the speech sound disorder in unknown. Other speech sound disorders can be linked to things such as a cleft palate, problems with the teeth, hearing loss, or difficulty controlling the movements of the mouth. Neurological disorders that can affect articulation include cerebral palsy.

  • Oral Apraxia: Difficulty making voluntary movements of the tongue and lips or with combining movements including those needed to make speech sounds. As a result, speech may be difficult to produce or have many inconsistent articulation errors.
  • Dysarthria: Paralysis, weakness or generally poor coordination of the muscles of the mouth. This can make speech slow, inaccurate, slurred, and/or hypernasal (when too much sound comes through the nose).

Lindamood Bell's Lindamood Phoneme Sequencing® (LiPS®) program

Some of my students use The LiPS® program which teaches students to feel the actions of their lips, tongues and vocal chords, and to notice and label them. Sounds are introduced in pairs (Brothers) and labeled quiet or noisy, based on vibrations of the vocal cords. These sounds have names that help students remember the parts of the mouth that are used to produce the sounds.
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Practice Articulation at Home

Using flashcards can make practicing your speech very enjoyable. If your child is able to produce his sound correctly 60% or more of the time in single words, practicing at home will be beneficial. Find 20 robust vocabulary words from your curriculum that contain your sound. Write each word from that list on two 3x5 cards. Make sure that your child is able to read the words. Practice saying your words with these games:

1. MYSTERY PICK: An adult chooses a card (not telling which one), and places it into the deck, shuffles, and fans the cards out. The student guesses which card the adult chose using good speech.

2. UP on the CUPS: Have the child close his/her eyes. Hide a small object beneath one of three opaque cups. On top of each cup place a stimulus card. The student guesses under which cup the object is hidden, by naming the card resting on top.

3. PICK 2: The Student picks 2 cards from the stimulus deck, then must make one sentence using both words. Rules can vary: the sentence must make sense, or the sentence must be nonsense.

4. MEMORY LINE UP: Place 3,4,5 cards in a row. The student says each, then closes his/her eyes, while the adult switches the order. The student then must say them as she/he put the cards back into the correct order.

5. SAY IT in a FLASH: Place stimulus cards around the room. Turn the lights down low, and student shines a flashlight onto a card and says it using good speech.

6. HATS OFF: Place a large hat on the floor, upside down. Student says each card as they attempt to toss the cards into the hat. Variation: use a ball and a basketball hoop or trashcan- say a word before each turn.

7. MEMORY: Place all the cards, word down, on the table. Taking turns with an adult, each person turns over two cards. If they match, the child must read the word and can keep the pair. If the two cards do not make a pair, they are turned over and the next person has a turn. The person with the most pairs wins.

8. GO FISH:In order to play Fish, you need to make more flashcards. You will need 14+ pairs. Deal five cards to each player. Leave the undealt cards face down as a draw pile. Starting with the player at dealer's left, each player asks another for a card. For example: "Kevin, do you have Restaurant?" In order to ask, you must already have a card with Restaurant. Whenever your request for a card is filled, it remains your turn. Continue with your turn. When the player you ask can't oblige, you'll be told to "Go Fish." Pick up the top card of the draw pile. If it's the card you called for, show the card at once, and your turn goes on. Otherwise, your turn ends. Play proceeds until the draw pile is gone.

9. TEACHER: give an adult a spelling test using the words

10. SPELLING TEST: Have an adult give you a spelling test using the words

11. ANY BOARD GAME: Say 3 words before taking each turn while playing a board game that you have at home.

12. READERS THEATER: Ask your family to put on a Readers Theater Play and practice the words while performing. Ask me to print out the script for you or find it on the StoryTown website.

13. HIDE AND SEEK: Hide cards around a room in your house. Say the word when you find it

14. DETECTIVE: Analyze each word to determine if your sound comes at the beginning, middle or end of the word

15. TONGUE TWISTERS: Make up a tongue twister using each card. Have the sentence 4+ words with 3 or more of the words starting with your sound.

16. TIC TAC TOE: Cut out 6 blue squares and 6 red squares. The adult gets one color and the child gets the other. Place 9 flashcards on a tic tac toe grid. Read the word of the box you want to claim and then place your square down. The person that gets 3 in a row wins.

17. BEAN BAG TOSS: Lay out flashcards face down up the floor. Toss the bean bag and identify the flashcard it lands on.

18. CROSS THE RIVER: Place flashcards on floor in winding manner. Each represents a stepping stone in the river. The student must say the word in order to step on it and cross the river!

Using an Appropriate Volume by Rynette R. Kjesbo, M.S., CCC-SLP

Volume is the loudness or softness of your voice. If someone is talking too loudly or too softly, it is difficult to concentrate on what he/she is saying. When you are talking to another person it is important to speak at an appropriate volume so that your listener

can hear and understand your message. Use the steps below to help teach students how to use an appropriate volume. Have them read/repeat the self-talk statements that follow each one. Then have a discussion about volume. You can start the discussion with

this question: What are some situations in which you had to adjust your volume level?

1. Know the difference between a soft voice and a loud voice – Practice using soft and loud voices in order to learn how each one feels and sounds. I will understand how to use soft and loud voices.

2. Know your habit – Many people typically talk too softly or too loudly. If you are

aware that you talk softly or loudly, you can adjust your volume to make it easier for a listener to hear you. I will be aware of my usual volume.

3. Consider your environment – The place where you are having a conversation affects how softly or loudly you need to talk. For example, if you are talking to someone in a library, you should use a softer volume than you would use at a football game. I will decide how softly or loudly I need to speak by listening to the noise level of my surroundings.

4. Look at the distance between you and your listener – If you are standing a couple of feet away from your listener, you can speak in a softer voice than if you are standing several yards away. I will use a softer voice when my listener is close by and a louder voice when he/she is farther away.

5. Recognize when you are excited about a topic – When we are excited about a

subject, we tend to speak louder and quicker. I will monitor my volume to make sure I do not speak too loudly when I am excited about a subject.

6. Watch for nonverbal signals – Look for signals from your listener that you are speaking too softly or too loudly. For example, if your listener is leaning toward you or asks you to repeat yourself several times, your volume may be too soft. If your listener is backing away or covering his/her ears, you may be speaking too loudly. I will watch my listener for hints that I am speaking too softly or too loudly.

7. Adjust your volume – If you find that your volume is too soft or too loud,

change it! I will speak louder if I am speaking too softly. I will speak softer if I am speaking too loudly.

Promoting Easy Vocal Productions by Kevin Stuckey, M.Ed, CCC-SLP and Julie A. Daymut, M.A., CCC-SLP

Children and adults can suffer from voice disorders that affect the pitch, loudness, and overall quality of their vocal productions. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can help these clients to vocalize easier and in a more productive manner. Read the information below to learn more about the components of voice as well as to get a practice activity for each voice component. Remember—before beginning any voice treatment, the client should receive an evaluation by an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor).

Components of Voice

Use the following, as adapted from Voice Choice!™ by Sandra Schwartz, M.S., CCC-SLP, to help your clients make easy vocal productions!


Respiratory support and airflow through the glottis (the space between the vocal folds) is the “driving” power of the voice. Therefore, it is important to establish appropriate breath support and airflow as the baseline or starting point for vocal production. The concept of airflow is somewhat abstract and can be difficult to teach. Therefore, targeting “breathy sounds” (i.e., voiceless plosives) during speech will drill the concept of airflow through the glottis.

Practice Activity—Have the client exaggerate breathy onsets of the initial consonants of the words to get the air started. For example, heat and face would be h-h-h-eat and f-f-f-ace. Make sure he/she does not whisper. In the beginning, model the productions for the client.


Voicing refers to the vibration of the vocal folds. Refer to this as the “buzzing sound your vocal cords make.” The goal is to control voicing without pushing or “squeezing” the vocal folds too tightly during phonation and speech. To help demonstrate this concept, have the client place his/her hands on the larynx (voice box) while making a buzzing sound to feel the vibration. Contrasting voiced and voiceless continuant sounds such as /s/ vs. /z/ and /f/ vs. /v/ teaches the concept of “turning the voice on and off.”

Practice Activity—Begin by having the client produce isolated, sustained productions of

the minimal pair sounds, /s/ and /z/ (“sssss” vs. “zzzzz”) and /f/ and /v/ (“fffff” vs. “vvvvv”).

Emphasize turning the voice on and off. In the beginning, model the productions for

the client.

Easy Onset

Easy onset refers to the contact of the vocal folds during the production of a word beginning with a vowel. The goal is to produce easy closure of the vocal folds into the airflow to produce the vowel sound vs. a hard closure (attack) of the vocal folds and pushing a burst of air through. This hard closure produces a staccato or attacked sound during the vowel production and is abusive to the vocal folds.

Practice Activity: Have the client practice saying /h/ and vowel onset minimal pairs (i.e.,

hear and ear). Focus on using an “easy” onset on the vowels. In the beginning, model

the productions for the client.


Resonance refers to the vibratory properties of the sound/voice above the glottis. This includes the oral and nasal cavities which shape the sound or give the voice its tonal quality. Although the vibration occurs at the laryngeal level (or glottis), vocal production should be focused at a higher level. Establishing a “higher” focus of the voice is helpful because it reduces tension at the level of the voice box and produces a resonant tone to the voice. The client should be able to “feel” the facial bones and nasal cavities vibrate by placing the fingers at the sides of the nose while humming.

Practice Activity: Have the client “hum” before saying the resonant words. For example,

money would be mmmmoney (there is no break between humming and the word). In

the beginning, model the productions for the client.


The term articulators refers to the lips, teeth, and tongue.