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Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fun Activities and Mouth Exercises for Toddlers' Clear Speech Development.

I watched the wonderful work that my child's Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) was doing and I noticed that many pronunciation problems can be prevented, if parents act early and stimulate child's tongue and mouth muscles development. I talked about it with the doctor and she confirmed it. Also she was so kind and agreed to share some tips with you, parents of bilingual and trilingual children. She also writes about "R" pronunciation difficulties. I hope this article will help you! 

by my child's SLP

I and my colleagues, other speech language pathologies,  have noticed that among the children, who are accessing our services, there are increasingly more children with bilingual and trilingual abilities. These children have speech defects because of the phonetic characteristics of the secondary languages which quite often are opposite to the ones of their primary language, and because of this they also have different learning times.

Not always the children have a correct perception of the buccal space and of the movement that the tongue can perform in it, so one has to work on the phonetic apparatus perception, sensitivity and the muscular strength in order to obtain a joint correction, that including cheeks, lips and tongue.

This resulting so-called "mouth" gymnastics consists of simple exercises that every willing and imaginative parent can work on with their child, by making it fun as a game.


Normally one starts with expressive grimaces that involve all the muscles of the face: in front of the mirror, together with the parent and any siblings
we make the ugly face,
the beautiful,
the sad,
the angry …….
we raise eyebrows ,
we move our nose,
we inflate and then deflate our cheeks and so on ... whatever comes to mind !


The blowing games are also important, such as :
  • blow bubbles in water with different types of straw ( long, short , thin , thick , ... )
  • make soap bubbles,
  • move small cotton, paper balls or marbles by blowing on them. You can invent a football game, where you have to do as many goals as possible by moving the ball only by blowing on it ),
  • move small pieces of paper from one container to another holding them by sucking though a straw, slowly increase the distance and use thicker paper.
  • inflate and deflate our cheeks or hold them inflated for more time (remembering to breathe through your nose ! )  ... .


Exercises for the lips such as:
  • send many kisses ,
  • hold "a kiss" for a minute ,
  • "pinch" the lips around the edges ,
  • make the noise of a car ( BRRRRR ... .. making sure that only the lips vibrate )
  • alternate the position from a kiss to a smile ( or more simply to say Italian "I" and "U" ) ,
  • hold small balls of paper and for spitting them out as far away as possible,
  • press the lips strongly and then produce a burst (like the sound of a bottle of sparkling wine cap)


And then come the exercises for the tongues which normally are the most difficult to execute. These are to be performed with the mouth open and the tongue pointed outwards so that it rests on the lower lip and the jaw does not "slip" forward:

  • licking a candy (or other kinds of lollipops)
  • touching only the upper teeth
  • touching the "rugae" (located behind the upper incisors at the beginning of the palate)
  • touching the upper lip
  • touching the corners of the mouth alternatively
  • same exercise as the previous one, but going beyond the corners of the mouth
  • circular tongue movements, clockwise and counterclockwise
TIP: In order to help with these movements, one could spread a bit of Nutella in the point that is to be reached with the tip of the tongue.
  • touching the four top and bottom molars alternatively
  • "massaging" the palate forward and back without moving the tongue beyond the upper front teeth
  • opening and closing the mouth holding the tip of the tongue onto the upper palatine wrinkles (“rugae”) without moving it
  • to repeat "LaLaLaLaLa ... ..LeLeLeLeLe ... ..LiLiLiLi ... LoLoLoLo ...... LuLuLuLu" being careful that the mouth does not move and that the tip of the tongue always touches palatine wrinkles without reaching the teeth.
  • to repeat "TATATA TETETE ... ... ..." changing the vowels etc.
  • to repeat "LALATATA ..." changing voice etc.

Please note that all of these exercises are intended to acquire a particular muscle capability therefore, during the execution, the precision of the movement is always more important than its speed!


As for the phoneme R the question is a bit more complicated.

If by the age of five (5) years, the child is not yet able to produce it, it is best to consult a speech therapist.

As a matter of fact this sound is rather complex from an articulatory standpoint: the tip of the tongue must rise against the palate and move a bit forth, it creates a flow of air that passes between the tip of the tongue and the palate while keeping the tip in the top position to produce the vibration.
Very often parents force their children to say it, even if they are not capable of doing it, however, this will lead to an incorrect setting that will result in the known French R.

It 's good to know that for a speech therapists is usually easier to correct an absent R that to correct an altered R; also waiting over a certain age will make things more complicated as the child will get used to his way of talking and the correction will become more difficult.

The parent will have to figure out if this is just a speech problem (which will be easily fixed) or abnormalities linked to other pathologies, such as

  • speech or language delay,
  • deafness,
  • bad habits such as prolonged use of the pacifier and baby bottles, thumb sucking (all these ones make the tongue used to stay low).
  • there may be a short lower frenulum of tongue that leads to an incompetent tongue, environmental allergies and / or chronic conditions such ear infection- all these provoke an exclusively oral breathing, so the tongue lays always low - (an examination with audiologist is recommended)
  • a sore tooth occlusion with alteration of the bite or
  • an arched palate, 
  • an atypical swallowing (an examination with an orthodontist is recommended).

If there no one of these complications is present, it means that the child simply has not found an autonomous way to develop skills useful to produce various sounds of the language and thus it will be possible to help him.

I hope the tips that my son's speech and language pathologies shared here will help your child avoid seeing one.

If you find this post interesting please share it! It might help other parents too:)

If you’d like to share some tips and /or write about your experience as a parent of a bilingual or multilingual child contact me here.

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