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What's Coarticulation got to do with it?

Coarticulation is the idea that each speech sound is affected by every other speech sound around it and each sound slightly changes according to its environment. Basically, sounds take on qualities of other sounds that precede of follow them (our articulators either anticipate the next sound or carryover qualities from the prior sound). We don't speak in single sounds. We rarely even speak in single words. We speak in connected strings of syllables. 

Our brains choreograph the movements we need to make, so that all of the movements needed for vowels and consonants are produced simultaneously. To do this, sounds can't exist in isolation, they flow together so that our speech sounds smooth and we are able to produce 5 syllables per second. Otherwise our speech would be perceived as choppy and robotic. Therefore, doesn't it only make sense to teach speech targets in the context of at least syllables, transitioning quickly to words, phrases, and so on?

Consider you are working on s-blends in the initial position of words with your child. Take just a second to practice these consonant blends out loud: /st/ /sp/ /sk/. Say these aloud, /st/ /sp/ /sk/. I am going to venture a guess (and I think a pretty good one!) that what you produced was the /s/ followed by the voiceless /t/ /p/ and /k/ respectively. Right? Okay.. well, what happens then when we want our children to produce these blends in the initial position of words? Lets see.

"Stay" "Stop" "Steady" "Store" "Stand"

"Spot" "Spoil" "Spin" "Spend"

"Score" "Scary" "Sky" "Skeleton"

Do you see? Because of the vowel which follows the consonant blend, our /t/ is now produced more like a /d/, /p/ closer to a /b/, and /k/ has taken on properties of /g/. So- if you need to begin at the syllable level, make sure you rehearse either mentally or aloud, prior to teaching these productions! It's okay to have to say "Wait... how do I say this?"

Often times as parents we articulate words for our children to imitate as a way of teaching them, and it frequently looks like this; "Charlie, say bu-ter-fly" "Jasmin, tell me ca-te-pil-lar"... but the problem is, none of us really say "bu-ter-fly" or "ca-te-pil-er" we actually say "buderfly" and "cadipilar" Notice this as you think of other printed words vs. the way we actually produce them within our natural speech!

An effective strategy that we can use as parents and therapists when teaching children how to produce multisyllabic (words containing more than one syllable) words is to use a strategy called backward buildups. Using this strategy allows for natural intonation and word stress, as you have to think about how you truly produce the word as you model from the last syllable to the first. By doing this, you are providing the correct speech model for your child to imitate! So it looks a little something like this; "fly" "derfly" "budderfly" and "ler" "piler" "dipilar" "cadipilar"!

If you found this information helpful, and would be interested in learning more tips and tricks related to speech and language home carryover, contact us at 

Sarah McDonnell, MA CCC-SLP