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!