Key to articulation therapy: The VOWELS
I think that vowel practice may be one of the most overlooked areas of articulation therapy. It is also the FOUNDATION for decoding (your child being able to read unknown words) and encoding (writing the words down). It is very common for articulation disorders to be accompanied by reading and writing problems. Once you understand more about the vowels, I think you’ll be much better equipped to assist your child with both reading and writing skills. If your child has fairly poor intelligibility (how well your child is understood when speaking), or if your child’s speech sounds “not quite right” but you don’t know why, he/she likely has some vowel distortions in his/her speech.
Here is the general breakdown of vowels:
1) Short vowels: These vowels will be found in between two consonants. If you have a CVC (Consonant Vowel Consonant) patterned word, you have a short vowel in between.
“a” as in “cat
“e” as in “wet”
“i” as in “hit”
“o” as in “hot”
“u” as in “bug”
2) Long vowels: Long vowels “say their name.” Listen to the sound the long vowels make, and you’ll understand what we mean when we say that. Many of my speech/language disordered children don’t know what we mean when we say that. It takes a lot of practice for them to “get it.” Also, look for silent “e” at the end of these long vowel words. When you take a CVC word and add an e on the end of it, you’ve changed a short vowel to a long vowel.
“a” as in “cake”
“e” as in “feet” or “seat” (Here you have CVVC combinations: “ee” or “ea” words)
“i” as in “lie” “buy” “hi” or “sigh” (Notice all the vowel combinations– no wonder spelling is so hard for kids!)
“o” as in “boat” “wrote” “dough” “sow”
“u” as in “you” “to” “two” “boo” “cute”
3) Diphthongs: These are vowel sounds that aren’t exactly long or short. They are typically a combination of two vowels, such as “oy” “ow” and “aw.” The consonants “w” and “y” have their own vowel-like pronunciations, and “l” and “r” definitely affect the way vowels are produced (think about the vowel + “r” combinations in these words: “deer” “hear” “shirt” “fire” “cure” “care” “for” “our”). L-influenced words are particularly difficult, especially when there is an “r”-”l” combination in a word, such as “girl” “world.” Think about how you say vowels in the words “fall” and “talk.” These are tough for speech delayed children!
Spelling of vowels is an entirely different topic. Many of my speech & language impaired kiddos NEED specialized instruction in spelling. I have taken graduate courses on the “Word Study” approach to spelling intervention, and I LOVE it. It has to be done correctly to be effective, however. I’ll save that speech for another day though. I have one last thing to mention about vowels:
When we produce long-vowel sounds, many times we are combining two very different sounds together. I’ll break these down for you in writing, and I’ll include a vowel practice video so your child can practice them.
The long “a” sound is made up of the sounds “eh” as in “bed” followed by the long “ee” sound. If you listen very, very carefully and feel what you’re tongue is doing, you’ll hear a slight “y” sound just before you say the “ee” sound: “eh-yee”
The long long “i” sound is made up of the sounds “ah” as in “lot” followed by the long “ee” sound. Can you hear a little “y” in there? “ah-yee”
The long “e” sound is simple. The tongue stays put. Notice it’s wide, and a little bit “tense”. This sound is one that I use to help kids learn “s” “sh” and “r” because it helps the child achieve a wide tongue position toward the back of the mouth.
The long “o” sound is made up of the “uh” as in “rut” sound followed by the “oo” sound as in “boo.”
The long “u” sound begins with the “ee” as in “bee” sound followed by the “oo” sound. If you concentrate you may hear a little “y” sound in between those vowels “ee-y-oo.” The tongue stays relatively “high” in the mouth.
JAW positioning, strength and stability, TONGUE stability, control, tone, LIP rounding or retraction, and SENSORY status (awareness of where the oral-structures are in space, or how well a child perceives touch) all affect overall vowel or consonant sound production. MANY kids who have difficulty with their vowels exhibit poor jaw control. Your child’s SLP can diagnose jaw insufficiencies and may want to put your child on a jaw rehabilitation program. Check out http://www.talktools.com to learn about the various jaw programs available. But, please don’t diagnose your child on your own! I just want you to know that there are many programs available that therapists like and use to treat jaw problems, among other oral-motor difficulties. SLP’s like well-informed parents, but not self-diagnosing ones.