Babies are born with the ability to communicate with you. From the very beginning they are listening to what you say and the intonation you use. To start with they use their cries to let you know if they are hungry, tired, need entertaining or changing. Form about 4 months old they start to use vowel sounds (cooing), and will take turns with you to copy your vowel sounds – a simple conversation! Babies add to these sounds and by 9 months are usually able to produce strings of sounds, e.g. mumumum. These sounds gradually become more varied and some are shortened towards vocalisations that sound more like words, e.g. dada, uh (up), goh (gone).
Children learn the sounds of speech gradually. Many young children’s speech in the first few years will be unclear and often difficult to understand. It is important to remember that such difficulties are common to many young children and that in most cases they will get better by themselves. A child may not produce all the sounds necessary for English until the age of six.
> When a child or young person has difficulties using speech sounds they may:
> Have difficulties making themselves understood
> Be reluctant to talk in class
> Have difficulty getting the sounds in the right order in words
> Be difficult to understand when not in context
> Sound younger than they are
Speech development can be affected by:
> Hearing difficulties
> Listening and attention difficulties
> Using a dummy when younger
> Structural factors, e.g. missing teeth, cleft palate
> Let the child tell you by using mime, gesture or pointing.
> Make a special time so your child can have your undivided attention and you can focus on them.
> Eye contact: When you talk to the child, make sure you get the child’s eye contact first. Face the child and bend down to their level.
> Help the child to listen: e.g. comment when you hear noises like the doorbell, dogs barking, birds singing. Try to have time without the TV or radio on so that the child can listen to other sounds.
> Praise: Always praise the child when they have said a word clearly.
> Avoid directly correcting the speech of children with speech difficulties. Instead, make a point of speaking slowly and clearly and make sure the child is looking at you when you talk.
> Always repeat back wrongly pronounced words to the child so they hear the correct pronunciation. For example, they say ‘dod’, you could say ‘ dog, it’s a big dog’. Do not point out that they have made a mistake or ask them to try the word again
> Let the child know when they are not understood: If you do not understand, let the child know this.
Encourage the child to clarify, using one or more of the following strategies:
> Saying it again louder
> Repeating just the words that you did not understand
> Show what he is saying using gesture or pointing
> Asking someone else to interpret (best friend or sibling)
> Ask a forced choice question such as “Are you talking about assembly or play time?” “Is it something that happened today or yesterday?”
Activities to encourage your baby to use more sounds:
> Talk/sing to your baby at every opportunity.
> Use simple language and sounds to accompany your baby’s behaviour, e.g. “you like that one” when stretching out their arm as if pointing, “big splash” when in the bath, “ah” when having a cuddle, “mmm” when eating.
> Give your baby words for what they are looking at, and what they are doing.
> Sing and rock your baby in time to the rhythm of the song.
> Play peep-boo and other similar games.
> Point out different sounds to your baby in the house and when outside, e.g. phone, bus, doorbell, animal sounds.
> Copy the sounds your baby makes.
> Take it in turns to make sounds as if you were talking together. Make a different sound when it is your turn.
> Look at books together, name the pictures and talk about them using simple two/three word phrases.
> Sing nursery rhymes and accompany these with actions where necessary.
> Exaggerate your facial expressions.
> Try to limit your baby’s use of a dummy. Dummies are helpful to help settle a baby but get in the way of being able to experiment with lip and tongue movement needed to help develop talking.
> These activities are likely to be more successful if you can turn off the radio / TV to make sure there is no distracting noise and your baby can concentrate on you.
Activities focusing on speech sounds:
> Try playing with sounds frequently (about five minutes, at least three times a week). Use actions or facial expression to keep it fun.
> Try practicing in front of a mirror so the child can see how they are making the sounds. Show the child how you make the sounds so they can copy you e.g
M eating something yummy! – ‘mmm’
P bubbles popping – ‘p..p..p..p’
B bouncy ball – ‘b..b..b’
T tap dripping – ‘t..t..t..t’
D drum beating – ‘d..d..d’
S snake hissing – ‘sssss’
SH teddy sleeping – ‘shhh’
F fireworks whizzing – ‘fffff’
> Encourage the child to practise clapping out the beats/syllables in different words. Begin with family members and everyday objects. They will find it easier to clap out shorter words to start with.