How to Increase Speech Clarity in 8 Steps:

Many teachers and parents need some strategies to increase a child’s speech clarity ASAP.  Speech therapy is usually very effective, but that takes time.  Here are a 8 tips that you can use today to help a child be understood.

#1 Slow Down

Many children have speech clarity issues because they try to speak as quickly as they think.  By having them slow down slightly, their tongue, lips, and jaw have a little more time to get where they need to be produce intelligible speech.  This can make a significant difference in intelligibility.  Here are some suggestions on getting them to reduce their speaking rate:

  • Have them pat their leg one time for every word they say.  It is very challenging for the brain to try and do two things at once.  The more things the brain tries to do simultaneously the slower it goes.  (i.e. pat your head and rub your belly).
  • Get a rubber band and have them stretch it one time for each word.  This works on the same principle as patting the leg.

#2 Speak Slightly Louder

Without fail, when I tell teachers and parents to have their child talk slightly louder, they look at me wide-eyed, and say you want them to talk even louder???  Of course, if the child is already unreasonably loud, this suggestion may not be appropriate.  However, many children have intelligibility issues due to mumbling.  Mumbling occurs because of low volume and minimal movement of the jaw, lips, and tongue while talking.

By increasing the volume slightly, a stronger signal is sent from the brain to the larynx (voice box).  However, the way the human body is made means that the stronger signal does not just go to the larynx, but also to the tongue, lips, and jaw.  The stronger signal results in exaggerated movement of these articulators.

Think of it this way- when you yell at a basketball game, your mouth opens wider, and lips move further, and your tongue’s movement is magnified.  A slight increase in volume will likely increase speech clarity because the mouth must make bigger and more forceful movements.

#3 Get Context

Context gives a listener cues about the conversation.  If you know that the child is trying to tell you about a situation at lunch or at recess, you are much more likely to decipher what the child is attempting to say.  While this strategy doesn’t actually change the child’s intelligibility, it can significantly increase how much of his conversation is understood.

You can get context by asking questions that begin with “what”, “who”, “where”, and “when”. If possible, ask the child to show you what he is talking about.

#4 Get on the Child’s Level

While it is not always practical to get eye level with the child every time he talks to you, you will find it helpful at times.  Getting eye level with the child will help you and the child focus on each other.  Even minor distractions can prove to be significant barriers if the child has difficulty articulating what’s on his mind.  Second, it shows the child that you are giving your full attention and that you care about what they are saying.

#5 Praise Good Speech

Most children are highly motivated by praise and they want to make you happy.  By praising good speech behaviors (i.e. going a little slower and slightly louder), you encourage them to repeat those behaviors.  Praise can come as words of admiration, high-fives, fist-bumps, etc.  If you follow up your immediate reinforcement of their good speech with a little bragging to the child’s parents later the same day, you can make a significant impression on that child.

#6 Practice Consistently to Become Habit

Spaced repetition develops into habits.  For the first week, praise them at every possible opportunity.  The praise can slowly be faded out as their good speech behaviors become habit.  The winning strategy for improving speech clarity over the long term is this:  Consistent (daily) reinforcement of good speech will result in long term improvement.  WARNING:  It will be frustrating for you and discouraging for the child to intensely work on improving their speech for a day or two and then do nothing for a week.  A little bit of practice on a daily basis will result in much faster progress than intense practice that happens sporadically.

#7 Don’t Stress

Getting anxious and uptight about the kiddo’s speech clarity is counterproductive.  One week their speech clarity may seem good, but the next week it is poor again.  That is not unusual.  You need to know that their speech clarity is definitely going to fluctuate some, but overall their clarity should be improving. Another reason not to get uptight about the child’s speech is that they will likely feed off of your emotions- If you seem anxious it will effect their mood and likely their speech.

#8 Talk with the Speech Pathologist for additional suggestions

If you child is in Speech Therapy then the SLP can give you even more suggestions for improving you kiddo’s speech clarity.  They should be able to given concrete suggestions on including final consonants, using all the syllables in words, actually making the /k/ in “cat” rather than “tat”.  Touching base with the SLP, even if it’s just five minutes in the hall may prove to be the more helpful than an entire day spent on “PD” (aka. professional development).

Bonus Tip-

#9 Talk with parents about what is working at home and school

A child will making the fastest progress when he is being reinforced for the same behaviors across different settings.  If the parents can give you a little tidbit of information or pass along a suggestion that has worked at home, then definately try to put that info to use at school.  Vice versa, by passing along what’s working at school the parents will appreciate how invested you are in helping their child improve their communication.

Hopefully you have found these suggestions helpful.  Please pass them along to other teachers and the parents of your students.

If you have any questions about how to help your child speak more clearly you can email me, and I will get back with you quickly.  In the meantime, please take two minutes to like/follow our Facebook page and Youtube.

Talk soon,

Dan McCool
Ozark Therapy Institute, LLC

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