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Supporting Pupils with Poor Pronunciation in the Early Years

Supporting Pupils with Poor Pronunciation in the Early Years

In the Early years it’s common to find many pupils difficult to understand. They can have problems with pronunciation which affects their speech intelligibility. Thing is, it’s hard knowing when speech sounds are a normal part of growing up or if there is some reason for concern.  In this blog, I will tell you the steps to take if you are concerned about a pupil’s speech pronunciation. 


1. Have Their Hearing Tested

If you are concerned about a pupil’s speech, the first thing to do is speak to the parents and ask them to go to the GP to get a hearing test.

In straightforward terms, if a child can’t hear sounds and discriminate between different sounds they are not going to be able to say them correctly.

Hearing difficulties are very common especially glue ear which occurs between the ages of 3-6. We often take for granted how many pupils have glue ear and see grommets and recurrent ear infections as part of the norm. In reality, glue ear can cause hearing loss. Timely try state-of-the-art testing and fitting equipment and an unsurpassed level of comprehensive hearing care not to resort to hearing aids Phoenix later. A hearing loss that fluctuates so the pupil is hearing slightly different things on different days.

A hearing loss during this time can be considerable (up to 40dB) which means pupils might miss out on parts of conversations; they may find it difficult to listen to teaching staff, they might find it also difficult to discriminate between two sounds when they are doing phonics. Sound familiar? That’s because 80% of pupils between the ages of 3-8 will have a period of glue ear causing a hearing loss.


2. Teach Them How to Listen

You heard me right! 80% of your class could at some point have a hearing loss that affects their ability to listen, to discriminate and to join in conversations. This may explain a lot, but it won’t help you teach them!

Remember that to say a sound pupils must be able to hear it first. And not just hear it but discriminate it from other sounds and identify it (know what it’s called).

There are several reasons why kids get mixed up with groups of sounds. A lot of these mistakes happen when children are learning to listen. Like any other skill we learn growing up listening goes through stages. some pupils are delayed and we have to help those children catch-up.
Let me try and illustrate this point to you in a bit more detail. Ok, go and find a mirror, go on, get a mirror, I’ll wait here….

Ok, have you got one? Right, I am going to demonstrate how important listening is for discriminating between sounds. So, Look in the mirror and silently say the sounds “p”, “b”, “m” what do you notice? They all look the same! Ok now try “t”, “d”, “n” weird right! And “k”, “g”, “ng.” There are sets of phonemes that are produced in exactly the same place in the mouth and with the same duration. unless you can discriminate between them it’s impossible to know which one to say and use.

Often when we are trying to teach sounds to pupils we ask them to watch our lips. Actually, this isn’t always the most useful advice. A pupil must discriminate between these sounds before they can identify them and then produce them.


3. Try “Focused Auditory Input”

When using this approach, the child is not expected to produce any of the words is provided with lots of opportunities to ‘hear’ the target sound or pattern. So, if you have a pupil that is struggling to produce words with a “t” at the beginning you could set up an environment where there are lots of opportunities to hear “t” words.

How do you do it?

Follow the child’s lead, talking about what the child is doing and in the process exposed to many examples of the target sound as possible.

How does this help Pupils with Poor Pronunciation?

Articulation and focused auditory tasks will increase pupil’s auditory awareness of their target sounds and provide an opportunity to practice their articulation. Ultimately the aim is to increase overall speech intelligibility and develop pupil’s confidence in their own communication.


4. Try “Syllable Detecting”

In unstressed syllables, vowel sounds lose their unique identity and they become a schwa vowel. To successfully spell the vowel sound in an unstressed syllable the student must recognise the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables which is why syllable awareness games are so important.

How do you do it?

Try identifying the number of syllables in the name of your favourite SpongeBob characters; footballers, fruit; clothing or vocabulary from a favourite book in class. Ask the pupil to clap the number of syllables they can hear. It’s a good idea to introduce the concept of syllables before you start. I sometimes describe them as the beats in words, then I will demonstrate a few examples using very familiar vocabulary like pupil’s name. Then we would move on to less familiar words to see if they are able to identify them there.


How does this help Pupils with Poor Pronunciation?

Developing your child’s phonological awareness will help develop their reading and literacy skills. They will learn to listen to and manipulate sounds and syllables and start to recognise the patterns in words. This will develop their word knowledge and their interest in letters and sounds.

  • Speak to parents and ask them to take them to the GP and ask for a hearing test
  • Speak to Parents and your SENCO and ask for a referral to Speech and Language Therapy.

5. Ask about Speech and Language Therapy

So the hearing test might come back fine, but the pupil is still struggling in phonics and has unclear speech. This is where speech and language therapy can help. A speech and language therapist can help you identify the underlying cause of speech difficulties and prescribe treatment to help. They can administer programmes of work, train you and your staff and get the best outcomes for that child. Sometimes children who have suffered from glue ear will need to retrain their ears to help them listen. The Speech and language therapist will support them to develop their discrimination and identification skills accurately. This will, in turn, improve pronunciation.