What is Clear Speech?

Clear Speech vs Mumbling204I’m working with a little boy who has imprecise articulation, and speaks two languages.  His speech is garbled in his native language and in English.  We have worked on exercises to improve the strength and mobility of his lips, tongue and jaw.  He’s a “tongue thruster” so he’s working on keeping his tongue behind his teeth for most sounds in English.

Since he’s pretty bright I thought he knew the definition of clear speech.  But when I asked, he could not define it.  He couldn’t define it in his primary language either.  That’s when we worked on this printable “Clear Speech vs. Mumbling”.  He’s learned the new vocabulary and now he responds quickly when I correct him.

Don’t be afraid to back up, if you discover you forgot to teach something!

Get the free printable Clear Speech vs. Mumbling.

Using the Anticipatory Pause in Communication

anticipatory pauseWhen a child is a late-talker, what can you do to help?

As a parent or care-giver – Stop talking!  Many families with late talkers (children who are not putting two words together by age 2) have others in the home that do all the talking.  Maybe there are older siblings, maybe grandparents, certainly mothers (we are usually big talkers!)

But how can a child develop language and speech if he never gets to have his turn?

By using an anticipatory pause you are helping your child develop his or her communication. Here’s how to do it right:

  • Step 1 – Speak to your child (make a statement or ask a question).
  • Step 2 – Wait silently.  Do not repeat!  Watch your child for his or her response.
  • Step 3 – If your child does not respond, give a short cue. It could be a short version of what you just said.  Or it could be a non-verbal cue like a point, gesture or facial expression.
  • Step 4 – Wait again silently.

Each time you interact with your child, you will give him pause time in which he can respond.  Do not rush!  That pause may need to be longer than you want, but long enough for your child to “process” what he/she hears and come up with a response.  Think of your interaction with your child as a partnership.  You initiate and he/she responds.  When you keep going, and do not give a pause, your child will have a harder time saying his/her part.


Parent: “Do you want a cracker or a cookie? (pause)

Child:  looks but no pointing and no verbal response

Parent: Cracker … or…  cookie? (pause)

Child: points to cookie

Parent: Cookie! (pause)

Child: smiles

Parent:  Tell me “cookie” (pause)

Child: Cookie

Parent: gives child the cookie

(Hooray – that is successful communication!)


Here’s what real parents have to say about the anticipatory pause: “We have been putting into practice the anticipatory pause and it has made such an amazing difference already. If we just wait and give (our son) time, he seems to respond. The other night, I told him to take off his shorts as he was getting ready for the shower. At first, he said no and just stood there. So, I just looked at him and waited … still he did nothing. Then, I motioned to his shorts non verbally… and then he proceeded to try and take them off by himself. It was great. We have seen him respond  almost every time once we give that anticipatory pause.”




Autism Red Flags

Autism Red FlagsWhen a family comes to see me about their child’s development,  there are specific things I look for. Here are some of the things that raise red flags for me with a young child’s development.

The most important tool in getting an accurate opinion of a child’s issues: A face-to-face meeting with a professional who has experience working with children with developmental disabilities.  Parents can describe a child’s behavior, but nothing replaces observing a child.  A professional observes behavior, and sees more accurately than any checklist can tell.

The second thing we want is a parent report.  Professionals look for some common autism red flags that parents tell us about:

  • delay in language development, or precocious language development or reading ability
  • lack of, or unusual, eye contact
  • flat affect (limited facial expressions or a vacant look)
  • unusual body posturing, such as finger-flicking, twirling or walking on his tiptoes
  • adherence to strict routines and difficulties when routines change
  • sensory overload – sensitivity to loud noises, textures, tastes or smells
  • restricted diet, or only preferring to eat a few favorite foods
  • lacking spontaneous cuddling or “connecting” with others (parents describe this as the child being very content to play alone)
  • poor ability to ‘read’ others – not understanding other’s non-verbal body language, facial expressions or sarcasm
  • unable to modulate behavior for different situations (loud in places he is expected to be quiet, reads a book at a party rather than plays with the other children)
  • incorrect use of toys or disorganized play (walking on toys on the floor rather than playing with them, filling a teapot with blocks and shaking it rather than pretending a tea party and “pouring” tea)
  • echolalia, the spontaneous or delayed repeating of exact sentences heard in his environment (many parents report a child repeats liner.s from a movie or TV show)
  • over-focus on a special interest, for example – gemstones, train schedules, or having to watch only one particular kid’s movie (parents might describe this as an “obsession”)
  • seems to not respond to sounds in the environment, or respond when his name is called
  • not showing another something by pointing (like at an airplane in the sky)
  • not following (visually) when a parent points to something across the room or across the yard
  • not showing things by bringing them to adults (not to get help, but just to share)

Not every child will have every reg flag, but a group of several of them indicate that a child is developing in an unusual way.   Intervention will benefit a child with these sort of delays. Typical interventions include speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills groups, early intervention playgroups/preschool  and parent education.

If you are a parent concerned with your child’s development, please contact a professional in you area.  If needed, your child will benefit from intervention, and the sooner the bette

Learn English with Dr. Seuss

pronunciation practice Dr. Seuss booksLearn to discriminate between the different English sounds by using books and videos that American school children all know well!  Dr. Seuss, American author Theodore Seuss Giesel, 1904-1994, is know for his engaging children’s books that contain common English words, repetition and rhyming.

Dr. Seuss wrote dozens of children’s books that are still used in classrooms today.  His most famous book is The Cat in the Hat which tells the story of two children who get into mischief on a rainy day when their mother is gone from the house. The cat wears a tall striped hat of red and white.  Many schools celebrate March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss.  Children make and wear the famous red and white “cat” hat and read stories by Dr. Seuss.

Reading Dr. Seuss books is a wonderful way to practice American English pronunciation.  The author uses rhyming and repetition to help new readers (and speakers) become familiar with, and memorise common spellings and sounds of English.  His books often have fantasy (made-up) words which are fun for young and old alike.  Your mouth with get a workout when you read Dr. Seuss books.

You can find all the Dr. Seuss books in your local bookstore or public library.  Check out these videos of these Dr. Seuss books that you can read-along:

Hop on Pop  Fox in Socks  Green Eggs and Ham (with a slight British accent) The ABC Book

More Dr. Seuss books to check out!

  • Cat in the Hat
  • Oh the Places You’ll Go!
  • And to Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street




Get the Most Out of ESL Class

ESL ClassTo get the most out of your ESL class:

1. Take notes in English whenever possible.

2.  Pay attention to the focus of the class and work toward that goal.

3.  Think about how the current lesson relates to past lessons.

4.  Participate!  Respond to teacher questions, read or answer when called upon.  Listen actively to what others are saying in the class.

5.  Review your notes after class.  Pay attention to anything that you don’t remember or understand and mark it to ask your teacher about it at the next class.

6.  Practice Practice Practice reading and writing English outside of class.

7.  Practice Practice Practice listening to and speaking English outside of class.

8.  Tape record or videotape yourself to get an accurate sense of how you look and sound when speaking/reading English.  Use the information to make positive changes.

Check back to my blog often for tips on ESL learning and American English pronunciation!  Thanks!



More on the Soft T (American T)

Soft T Pronounced like DAmerican English T has some unusual rules.  Today I’d like to review soft T in words like quality, priority, and celebrity,  When conversing in English words ending in -ity are reduced and are usually pronounced -ədee [uh + dee].  This soft T sounds like a D.  This is a common occurrence for connected speech in English.  It is only when we say the single word that we may fully pronounce the T.

quality = kwal ədee

priority = pri yor ədee

celebrity = su le brədee

Practice saying  soft T with this free printable worksheet.


What to Teach First in Pronunciation

What to teach First in PronunciationQuestion:  I need to teach pronunciation to my ESL students, but I don’t know where to start.  What should I teach first?  Thanks, Vicki

Answer:  English pronunciation is a big topic, but let me give you some starting points that are pretty simple to teach, and will  make a difference in your student’s pronunciation right away.

Teach melody One of the most important things to teach first in English pronunciation is the melody, or intonation which is the rise and fall of English in phrases and sentences.  Now if you’re thinking that your beginning students don’t know enough vocabulary or grammar, that should be considered.  I would, however, start with teaching the melody in a name, address and phone number as well as other basic phrases.  If your students were in an accident, and needed to speak to first responders, or police, being able to tell their name and address would be crucial. Teach the rise and fall of names and addresses in a sentence.

My NAME is // liU yang.

My ADDress is // 2188 WALKer ct. // san joSE // CaliFORnia  // 95117 (Drop your intonation at the end.)

Some students may have difficulty learning the rise and fall of English.  Teach about stress (longer, louder, higher pitch) by using multi-syllable words. Computer, for example, would be hard to understand with the stress in the wrong place: COMputer?  compuTER? No, we say comPUTer.

Teach 6 mouth openings for English vowels English vowels are spoken with 6 jaw placements from very high [ee] to very low [ah].  Many languages do not open their mouths to the lower positions English speakers use.  Students need practice opening their mouths when they speak English. Try this exercise with the 6 positions.

  • Pete  (very high jaw placement – the mouth is nearly closed)
  • Pit
  • Pet
  • Putt (the mouth is open about mid-way, this is the most common sound in English, the schwa sound.)
  • Pat
  • Pot  (very low jaw placement – the mouth is open wide)


  • ee (very high – nearly closed)
  • i
  • e
  • uh
  • ae
  • ah (very low – open)

Learn more on the openings for English vowels here.

Teach the vowel sound “schwa” (sounds like ‘ah’) The most common sound in English, getting this sound right will make a difference quickly.  Since we reduce many vowels to the schwa, a lesson on reduction goes well with teaching the schwa. Learn more on the Common English Reductions here. Be careful because it can be spelled many different ways. Practice with these words up. cup, nut, the, was,  love, mother, above, son, police, president.  Here’s a free printable for practicing the schwa sound in words.

Teach the TH You can see this sound (tongue between teeth) so it’s easy to teach, and thank you is an early first English word, so your students will have lots of opportunity to practice. Students from some cultures will not want their tongues to show, so teach them to make the TH by the tongue touching the back of the top teeth. Practice words: thank, think, thin, thing, thumb, with, math both, teeth, mouth.  Learn more on teaching the TH here.

Best of luck, and have fun teaching!