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Here to help you, right where you are.

  • Writer's pictureAlison McDonald

Help! My child is really hard to understand.

‘Help! My child is really hard to understand.’

We hear this sentence a lot as Speech Pathologists. Join us this month as we talk about speech sounds, and how we can help our Little Ones to become clearer speakers.

Week 1

Why is my child hard to understand?

By 4 years of age, we expect that at least 75% of people outside the family will understand what our Little Ones say. As parents, we are very adept at interpreting what our children are intending to say, and we may often do this without even realising. However, if other people are struggling to understand our child, it’s time to take stock and find out why.

Here are a few reasons why children can be hard to understand:

  1. They can’t make all the sounds they need. Their lips and tongue can’t seem to get into the right position for all of the sounds.

  2. They can say the sounds, but can’t use them in just the right spot. For example, they may leave the end of words off or put a ‘t’ sound into a word instead of a ‘k’ sound.

  3. Their speech may be clear, but what they are saying doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, which gives the impression that they are hard to understand.

  4. They have trouble hearing the sounds they need to say.

This week, take time to listen to your Little One. How well can others understand them?

Week 2

What Can Your Mouth Do?

Children who are aware of their mouth and all the movements it can make – lips, tongue, jaw, soft palate and cheeks – are more likely to speak clearly.

Spend some time in front of the mirror with your child. Can they see all the parts of their mouth? Can they see their soft palate move when they say ‘ahh’? (For reference, the dangly bit at the back of your mouth is called the ‘uvula’, and the small bulges you may see on the sides near the back of your tongue are your tonsils).

Play some Look, Listen and Copy games. What funny faces and mouth movements can you make? What sounds can you make? Talk about the parts of your mouth that makes the sound. Do you make it by curling your tongue, or perhaps blowing air through your lips? Can your child pull the same faces and make the same noises? What crazy faces and noises can they come up with for you to copy? Playing these games after teeth brushing time is a great way for your child to become more aware of their ability to make a wide variety of speech sounds!

Week 3

What Sound Did You Hear?

Did you know that a lot of listening and learning needs to happen, before a child can say a word clearly? First, they need to hear the sounds. Then they need to set up a plan for their muscles to make the sounds in just the right order, and with the right timing (this is called motor planning). The more a child hears a word used by a variety of speakers, the more they understand the shape and pattern of the sounds used to form this word. This helps them to create more accurate motor patterns and repeat words more clearly, which refines their speech.

Talking about the sounds you hear in words will help your Little One to develop a good understanding of how words are put together. Talk about the first sound you can hear in a word. Get them to feel the sound in their mouth. For example, the word ‘mum’ starts with an ‘mmmmm’ sound. Can you feel your lips make that sound? “”. What about the word ‘car’? It starts with a ‘kuh’ sound. What can you see and feel moving when you make that sound?

This week, take the chance to talk about words and their sounds with your Little One as you are going through your daily routine. At the shops, you might say; “We need some bread. Bread starts with a ‘buh’ sound. Can you feel your lips make that sound? Can you feel the puff of air?”

How many sounds can you talk about this week?

Week 4

Making it Stick

Does asking a Little Person to repeat a word over and over again help make it clearer?

Demanding our children to repeat words is very tiring and frustrating, for both us as parents, and our children. Research shows that there is a better way to help the correct pronunciation of a word ‘stick’.

As speech pathologists, we recommend a technique called ‘Modelling and Recasting’. When your child says a word incorrectly, it’s your job to immediately give them the correct model for the word. While your child is thinking about the topic at hand, repeat the model. Lots. Use it in different sentences. Try and recast the correct model at least 20 times in a couple of minutes. For example, if your child says “I have the tar”, you can say: “Oh, you have the car. It’s the red car. My car is green. Where is your car going? I hope these cars don’t crash…” Keep it going! Your child will develop a strong internal model for the word ‘car’ and is more likely to recognise when their way of saying the word doesn’t match with yours.

This week, look for opportunities to model and recast words that your child is struggling to master.


Thank you for joining us this month as we talk about speech sounds and helping our Little Ones become clearer speakers!

If you are concerned that your child is not speaking clearly, please get in touch! We’re here for you. You can give our office a call today on (02) 4948 9800 to discuss how a Speech Pathologist can help, or email us at

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