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So what do you do with the child who knows how to say all of her sounds correctly but in conversational speech she mumbles and doesn’t articulate well?  That was the exact question I got from a reader this week and I thought it was a great one to share with the group!  This is article is written from the perspective of a parent, but this is a problem that can be addressed by a speech-language pathologist, a classroom teacher, or a parent.  Make sure that you complete each of these steps but be patient, each step may take many sessions or even weeks to master.  Practice makes perfect!!

1. Mumbling Awareness

Tell your child that you want to talk to him about mumbling.  Ask first if he knows what it means to mumble.  If he can give you a good definition, then you’re already on your way!  If not, tell him that when people mumble, they don’t say all of their sounds right so it’s hard to understand them.  They might talk to quietly, leave sounds out, slur words together, etc.  Basically, define mumbling for your child by describing what he does when he is mumbling.  Tell your child you’re going to play a game where he has to tell you if you are mumbling or not.  For this, you may want to write some sentences on cards beforehand so you don’t run out of things to say.  On each turn, read a sentence for your child.  Speak very articulately on some sentences and on others mumble it all together.  If your child bores of this quickly, you could play a board game while you do this and do one sentence before each turn in the game.  Practice this until your child can identify when your sentences are mumbled or not.  To make it more fun, you could even give your child a buzzer (like from the game Taboo) or a bell and have him sound it every time you are mumbling.

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2. Mumbling Practice

Now it’s your child’s turn.  Have your child practice reading sentences using mumbled speech or not-mumbled speech.  Give the not-mumbled speech a name like “clear speech”, “good speech” or “articulate speech”.  If your child is too young to read, show your child pictures (such as photos you’ve taken, photos from the internet, or photos from catalogs/magazines) and have her create a sentence about what’s happening in the picture.  Before your child says her sentence, tell her to either use her mumbled speech or clear speech (or whatever you’re calling it).  Keep practicing this until your child is able to speak sentences clearly on command.  If your child is having trouble with this step, you may want to back up and try just saying single words or simple phrases like “my ball” with clear speech.  Then, you can work your way up to having your child speak longer phrases and sentences clearly.

3. Create a Cue

Now that your child knows how to produce clear speech on command, you need to create a visual cue that you can use to remind your child when he starts mumbling.  For younger children, try using a picture cue like a picture of a boy speaking or a mouth.  Tell your child that when you show him this cue, he needs to remember to use his clear speech.  For an older child, invite him to think of a good cue with you.  Tell him that you want to come up with a visual cue that you can give him to remind him not to mumble that won’t embarrass him if he’s in front of other people.  Ask him what he thinks the cue should be first.  If he can’t think of anything, offer up some suggestions like touching your mouth, pulling on your ear, or raising your eyebrows.  Try to make it something that anyone could do so that you can easily transfer this to other adults in your child’s life, like teachers (example, touching the necklace you always wear won’t be an effective cue for your child’s male teacher).

4. Practice Using the Cue

Sit down with your child and tell her you’re going to practice using the cue.  Remind your child that every time she sees the cue, it means she’s mumbling and she needs to use her clear speech.  Tell her that she can catch you mumbling as well using the same cue (make sure you do some mumbling also so it doesn’t seem like you’re just picking on her).  If your child is pretty talkative, you can have her just tell you about something that happened recently.  Some popular topics are “what did you do at recess today?” or “tell me about your last birthday party”.  If your child doesn’t readily start conversations with you, try having her read you a simple book or describe what’s happening in pictures.  Every time your child starts to mumble, use the cue.  At first, your child may not always catch the cue so you can give gentle reminders like “oh look, I’m doing the cue!”.  After a while, your child shouldn’t need you to say anything, you should just be able to use it silently.

5. Generalize the Cue

Now that your child understands the cue, tell him you’re going to start using it other places.  Use it every once in a while around the house when you hear him mumbling and see if he picks up on it.  Just like in the last step, you may have to point it out at first until he gets used to looking for it.  You don’t need to use it every time he mumbles because you don’t want him to get frustrated or mad at you, but just start off slow and build your way up.  Once it is successful for you, you can also start teaching other adults in your child’s life to do this.  You can show teachers, other parents/grandparents, caregivers, etc.  Teachers will be especially grateful to have a technique that they can use to get your child to speak more clearly without embarrassing him in front of his classmates.

As I said before, be patient because each of these steps may take a while to master.  The key is to try to keep it fun and not make it feel like you’re punishing your child for doing something wrong.  You just want to make it easier for others to understand her!  You can even talk to her about why she thinks it might be important to not mumble and have an open discussion about the benefits of speaking clearly.  I know it sounds cheesy, but sometimes children really just need to talk through something with an adult to guide their discovery.  I hope this helps, thanks to my reader who emailed me this question.  I am always looking for topics to write new articles about so please use my contact page and send me your pressing speech and language questions!

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Where to Find More Info:

This guide, along with 38 others, is included in Ms. Carrie’s E-Book: Speech and Language Therapy Guide: Step-By-Step Speech Therapy Activities to Teach Speech and Language Skills At Home or In Therapy.  This guide includes detailed information on teaching various speech and language skills, including this one, along with worksheets, handouts, sample IEP goals, data collection, and video demonstrations.  Or, Click here to download the PDF guide of this information!