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Using New Speech Sounds in Conversation

Speech Language Therapist, doing Speech Therapy, Working on the K sound with pop up pirate game

Early in the speech therapy process, tasks are highly structured, and different levels of prompting and support are given to enable the child to succeed. They know they are practicing their sound at a specific time in a specific activity. The child’s skills in producing their sound are gradually shaped to enable them to produce their sound in more and more complex situations, working towards conversation.

Some children can take their new sounds and run with them, transferring their new skills into conversation with little to no support. It is awesome when this happens, but it is rare! Many children will demonstrate their best production in conversation in their speech clinic, and then go back to their old production patterns once back at school or home. Other children will become highly proficient at telling a long story about a topic, including multiple words with their target sound, however when you ask them a simple question, they will forget their sound in their answer. These are both common problems with generalisation.

Full accurate production of a new sound in conversation can take a long time. Often the child’s current production is very engrained, and swapping in their new sound is a habit that needs to be formed. I generally stick with the rule that once the child uses their sound in 80% of conversation, we can put this sound on the backburner, and allow the child to gradually build up the remaining 20% basically independently.

For the child to move into using their sound in conversation they need to be able to make their sound in complex situations (sentences/stories) with ease, and be able to identify their own errors to some degree.

Tasks to promote use of speech sounds in conversation:

  • Modelling speech sounds in conversation: A simple yet effective strategy of saying the child’s sounds in error back to them correctly with emphasis. This is not to correct the child, but to highlight the correct use of the sound e.g. child “That dod is so cute” adult “oh I know, I love that dogggg, I love that dogggg’s fur”. This is a brilliant strategy for teachers to use at school also!
  • Giving specific feedback: “Wow great s sound!”
  • Fix it up routine: An effective strategy, but I do always let the parents take charge of how and when they use this strategy. Some kids are perfectly fine with being asked to fix up errors, but for others it can be very annoying! The fixed up one routine can be taught in clinic, and then used at home. When a child makes an error at home, the parent can ask the child to fix it up e.g. “oops, I heard tup, not cup. Can you fix that one up for me?”

It is also a good idea (and much more fun) if the parents make some mistakes too. Make sure the mistakes are obvious enough for the child to notice. Then discuss what should be done “Oh no! Silly mummy, I said tup. What do I need to do?”

  • Self-rating tasks for school aged kids: Try taking a video of the child talking, and then play it back. Help the child to rate how well they did and which sounds were missed.
  • Slowly reduce the structure during practice sessions: Jumping straight from saying a sentence with target words, to expecting the child to talk to you using their sounds is a big jump! This jump can be made smaller by providing some structure to the conversation. Keeping it short, and in a question and answer format can be a good way to go. Make sure you talk to your child about their sound first. E.g. “You are doing so well with your s sound, now we want to practice answering some questions with your sound. Think about what you want to say first, and then say it”
  • Pacing activities: Some children can talk quite fast in conversation, which makes it more difficult for them to use their sound. Slowing the pace of conversation can help with this. You can use homemade pacing boards (which might just be a row of smiley faces on a strip of paper) where the child has to touch each token when they say each word in the sentence.
  • Special vocabulary list: Children often struggle with the words they use most often. Have a listen out to what words with the target sound are used most by your child, and put these into a list. Practice them daily so that accurate production becomes the child’s default.
  • Keep going with your games and activities provided by your speech therapist – keeping up with these will be gradually helping your child use their sounds in conversation.
  • Sound time: Identify a time when you and your child can talk and concentrate on sounds. Start with a short amount of time (e.g. 5min) and gradually increase this as your child improves. Discuss how for the next 5min you will be listening out for the target sound. Encourage your child to think hard about using their sound in this time.
  • Deliberate misunderstanding: To be used in a playful manner on occasion. Parents can judge whether this strategy is suitable for their child’s personality. Sometimes a child’s error will change the meaning of the word, you could respond to the spoken meaning (rather than the intended meaning) e.g. child “where is my tap (cap)?” adult “your tap? Do you mean the kitchen tap? Here it is, this ttttap?”
  • Saying sounds in home readers: When practicing home readers, children could look out for their sounds, and make sure they read them out correctly.

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