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Teaching speech sounds

Some children might have difficulty using certain sounds in a word or on its own. There are lots of ways you can support your child’s speech, language and communication development at home. 

Using listening activities can help children to become aware of different speech sounds. These give your child lots of opportunities to hear different sounds, without any pressure to say the words. 

Below are some ideas for listening activities which keep the environment fun and relaxed. 

  • Go on a ‘listening walk’ with your child and draw their attention to noises in the environment and comment on what they are, eg if you see an aeroplane overhead make the sound “neeow” or if you see a fire engine make the sound “nee naw”. Can you hear the rustling of the leaves in the trees? Can you hear a dog barking?
  • Encourage the recognition and use of animal noises. For example, if you’re looking at an animal picture book make the sound the animal in the picture makes, so if there’s a picture of a cow point and say “moo”. 
  • Give certain toys particular sounds. A car could say ‘k-k-k’ because it’s breaking down, a ball makes the noise ‘b-b-b’ as you bounce it, and a train goes ‘ch-ch-ch’. Make a ‘shhh’ sound for pouring out tea at tea parties, a tap dripping might say ‘t, t, t’ or when pretending to pump up car tyres you might say ‘fffff’. 
  • Encourage the recognition of rhyme and rhythm with nursery rhymes. Give your child the opportunity to finish the lines of a familiar rhyme eg “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great …” (leave a space here for your child to say the word or fill it in for them if they don’t - fall). Particularly good are action rhymes where you can do an action to the words, eg ‘Pat-a-cake’, ‘Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Incey Wincey Spider’. 
  • Clap out syllables (parts in a word) in words or names eg Finn (1 clap) Mo-hamm-ad (3 claps), Char-lie (2 claps), hel-i-cop-ter (4 claps), this helps children to break down words into the component sounds that are in them and supports early literacy skills.

If your child has difficulty with a particular sound:

  • Take opportunities to use words with the target sound (ie the sound they are having trouble with)when talking with your child, but don’t put pressure on them to say it themselves. The more times your child hears and sees this sound the more likely they are to use it for themselves. For example, if your target sound is ‘s’, you could say “here are your socks”, “Teddy is sitting on the seat”.
  • Play “what’s in the bag?” Fill a bag with objects beginning with the target sound and ask your child to take one object out of the bag. When your child removes an object from the bag you name it. Try to pick words that are followed by a vowel sound eg fish, fan etc. rather than as part of a consonant blend like frog or frame, as consonants will be harder. 

If your child is a later talker, you might like to ask your therapist for advice on whether your child is ready to focus on sounds, or which sounds to focus on.  

The Department of Education has created a resource called Hungry Little Minds to help support parents and carers with tips to encourage speech, language and development in age-appropriate stages. 

See our Typical speech sound development page for details of which sounds are expected at different ages.

About the author

Sarah Thomas, Student SLT University of Reading