Talking About Talking – Part 1

I want to discuss what I think is the biggest reason more of us don’t give focused feedback  even though we may want to, and that is …


question bubblesMost of us rarely – if ever – have given a thought to HOW we make speech sounds. It just happens. And while it’s great that speech happens so automatically – for those who want to help a child improve his speech, the lack of understanding of this process can make speech production seem far more mysterious than it really is. And those determined few who may try to learn more probably grow discouraged when they encounter charts like this:


But I promise you – IT’S NOT THAT COMPLICATED. I want to give you a simpler way to understand speech. All the specifics aren’t necessary, but by all means, feel free to learn more if you’re interested. I’m not going to go through every English sound here on Snappy Speech (that’s another project I’m working on), but what I will give you are some simple terms to remove the veil of mystery and allow you to start thinking and talking about speech with some level of confidence. Talking about Talking – Part 2 will include examples of how to describe specific speech sounds. For now, let’s just meet the players.

Anatomy and Physiology of Speech – Snappy Speech Style

  • Air – Pretty hard to talk without it. We’re always talking on exhale.
  • Voice box (Larynx) –  Makes air either noisy or quiet. Some sounds are the same in all ways except one is voiced while the other is not (/g, k/ … /d, t/). It’s pretty hard for kids to think about what their vocal cords are doing, but just about any kid can whisper to make a noisy sound become quiet.
  • Tongue – Changes shape constantly, and is always making contact with another player either with the tip, sides, or the back of the tongue. It can be …
    • fat/skinny
    • strong/weak
    • up/down
    • high/low
  • Teeth – These are the boundaries, or walls. Some sounds require the tongue to either lean on the walls, or hang out in between them, as in “th”.
  • Ridge – The ridge is the bumpy area directly behind the top teeth.
  • Nose – An entirely passive participant. It’s just easier to refer to the nose than the velum, which lifts or lowers to direct air out through either the mouth or the nose, respectively.
  • Lips – Block and shape the flow of air. Sometimes the lips have a significant impact on a sound, whereas other times they don’t. For example, a slight smile changes “ooo” to “eee,” but we can say /r/ with round lips or a smile and it makes little difference.

Simple enough, right?

I’m going to leave it there. I invite you to spend a minute FEELING some sounds (eg: the sounds in your name), to see if you can tell what the different parts are doing.

I feel the need for another disclaimer: My descriptions of speech structures and functions above is an over-simplification of all aspects of speech sound production. There are numerous things that can affect a person’s ability to produce speech, and abnormalities can occur in any of the structures/functions mentioned, as well as in structures and functions not mentioned. Concerns about your child’s speech need to be discussed with a speech pathologist and physician.


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