New Vocalic R Practice Pack on TPT

Vocalic R collectionPlease stop by my TpT store and see the latest addition to my articulation resources.  I’ve added a new Vocalic R Practice Collection that will be a great supplement to teaching/learning R articulation.

R is the most difficult sound in English and many kids and adults need help with learning the sound.  American R is also a popular target for ESL students, and teachers of American English pronunciation.

Worksheets are organized by sound and have space to add personalized words or sentences.  Use this collection in class or in therapy to practice words with the sounds:

  • AIR
  • EAR
  • IRE
  • AR
  • OR
  • ER

How to Teach Social Thinking to Students with Autism

how to teach flexibility autismStudents with autism often have inflexible thinking.  When kids hear a comment like “We’ll go in 5 minutes”, typically-developing kids make guesses about it, or understand that the meaning is about 5 minutes and not exactly 5 minutes. Kids with autism tend  be concrete thinkers and may take language literally, and think the meaning is exactly 5 minutes! Figurative language is tricky for the student with autism also. They may hear someone say “She knocked my socks off” and may think the speaker’s socks came flying off.

Inflexible thinking causes many problems for students. When a student is inflexible, it will be hard for him to get along with his classmates. It will be like his brain is a rock – hard and stiff, and unwilling to consider other’s actions and feelings.  He often misunderstands phrases or behaviors that his classmates use. He takes things literally and won’t understand the nuances of polite language. His classmates use language to navigate socially, but his “rock brain” will prevent him from knowing the differing meanings of language like figures of speech, irony, sarcasm and the difference between bullying and just kidding around.  

Inflexible thinking can also cause problems with school or family schedules, as well as environments.  Some students can cling to their routines and have difficulty being flexible if their routine is interupted. If there is a change in a child’s regular schedule, it may cause a meltdown or at the very least some anxiety. Some students need to have their environments arranged a certain way, and feel anxious if their items are moved, or out of place.

Ways to teach your child to be flexible:

Choose your words. I once knew a student who appeared to be struggling with an assignment.  His teacher said “Just do the even ones.”  The student immediately did numbers 2, 4, 6, 8. and 10.  With 15 minutes left in class, the teacher took his paper and saw he was capable, and said to him “Now go back and do the odd.”  The student melted down and shouted at the teacher “You promised I only had to do the even!” This was a problem with the word “just”.  The student understood it to mean one thing, that he “only had to do the even ones and no more“.  The teacher may have let it be, but not understanding her student’s difficulty with language flexibility, she created a larger problem. I worked with a middle schooler last year on problem-solving.  When working through an activity I said to him, “Guess“.  But he refused.  He insisted “I can’t guess. Don’t make me guess.” I changed my wording. ‘OK,” I said, “Let’s come up with a solution.”  The student could do the work (as long as I didn’t use the word “guess”.)\

Check for understanding. Watch your child to see if they understood what you are asking.

Give advance warning on changes.  Kids with high-functioning autism (like Aspergers) appreciate when you warn them of a change coming up.  I’ve found younger kids need this more often, and older kids begin to understand that changes are normal in life and to expect changes (or at least to be flexible with changes when they occur.)

Help your student be a “language detective”. One of the best ways to figure out a message is to consider the whole body.  Is the facial expression and body language matching what the person said?  Teach your child to “read” the other parts of the message (tone of voice, body language, context etc.) Is the message “for real” or “sarcasm” or “a joke”? Teach explicitly.  Your child has not figured it out on his own yet.  Come along side and teach him.

Flexible Brain and Rock Brain Lesson – I teach this lesson to my spectrum kids: flexible brain toyI use a small flexible brain (check your local toy store) and a rock.  I show the two items and let the kids hold them, try to squeeze them etc. We talk about how everyone’s brain needs to be flexible, because interacting with others will always be changing.  When I ask the kids about what will happen if we are “rock brains’?  they can usually say that we’ll have trouble playing and working with others.  We talk about how a soft squishy brain toy will not hurt a friend if we throw it at them.  (Before talking about the “throwing” be sure to collect up the rock, so that the kids have only the brain to throw around, if they get too excited. ) But a hard rock would hurt others.  I tell them it’s the same with them.  If they are being flexible it will be easier to get along with friends, no one gets hurt. But with a rock brain, it’s possible we will hurt others’s feelings, and no one will want to hang out with us.

Older students can recognize different scenarios as “flexible” or “rock” brain.  And many kids can recall a time when they noticed another’s behavior with them was “flexible” or “rock brain”.

If you like these lesson ideas, you’ll like Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner’s “Superflex”.

(Reposted from 10/6/13)

Long E/Short I/ShortE (bead/bid/bed)

Bead_Bid_Bed English pronunciation San Jose CAWhen I work with students trying to modify their foreign accent, confusing these sounds is often the most common mistake.

This will lead to many misunderstandings, so getting it right will be a big help.

With words with long e – believe, colleague, really, heat – smile broadly with teeth almost closed. Arch your tongue in the middle, high enough to touch the upper teeth at the sides. Tense the muscles of your tongue and mouth. Try these practice words:

  • bead
  • eat
  • feet
  • beat
  • seat
  • heat

With words with short i – Italy, happiness, insect, living – make a little smile with mouth slightly open. Arch your tongue slightly. Relax the muscles of your tongue and mouth. Try these practice words:

  • bid
  • it
  • fit
  • bit
  • sit
  • hit

With words with short e – end, went, editor, edge – the mouth is open and the lips are relaxed.  Make a low arch with your tongue. Try these practice words:

  • bed
  • red
  • led
  • fed
  • said (Careful!  This one is “sed”)

Click here for handouts from Richard Lane’s pronunciation guide on long e, short i and short e.


How to Change a Foreign Accent

image from Bing Images

image from Bing Images

First things first – everyone has an accent!  I bet you didn’t realize that.  But it’s true.  You may find when you are learning a new language like American English, that your accent gets in the way.  When this happens you begin to think “How can I get rid of my accent?”

The answer is “You can’t.”   You can’t get rid of it completely, but you can make your errors seem less noticeable.  That’s where accent reduction lessons can help.  With accent reduction lessons (also called accent modification or American English accent training) you often work with a speech-language pathologist specially trained to teach you how to speak American English like a native speaker.

Your teacher will emphasise correct pronunciation of American English sounds, words stress and sentence stress, linking sounds together in running speech, common reductions, and the melody and intonation patterns that will help you to sound more American.

What’s your part?  You need to spend focused time listening and imitating American English.  One quick way to get a handle on an American English accent is to mimic an American speaking your language.  This is called reverse accent mimicry.  Just speak your language the way you may have heard an American speak it – by mimicking an American accent while speaking your language, you will trigger areas of your brain that control speech learning and accent.  Then make these same sounds when speaking American English.  You should see an improvement.

Try accent reduction books with CDs.  If you are an auditory learner the recordings will be helpful, and if you are a visual learner read along in the book while you listen.

Set a goal for yourself .  You could select one sound.  Many speakers from Asian countries can improve American R (made in the back of the mouth) and L (made near the front of the mouth).  Many speaker from Latin countries can improve TH sounds and add voicing to Z sounds.  Find out your trouble sounds and try to improve them on purpose.

Let friends or co-workers know that you are working on improving your accent.  Many Americans are too polite to correct words someone is pronouncing wrong, but if you let them know you want their feedback, I’m sure they will be happy to provide that.

Good luck with your accent learning,  and keep up the good work!


(previously posted July 2012)