Articulation is the process by which sounds are formed when your tongue, jaw, teeth, lips, and palate alter the air stream coming from the vocal folds. Sounds are learned in an orderly sequence. Some sounds, such as "p," "m," and "b," are learned as early as 1 year of age. Other sounds, like "s," "r,' and "l," often are not completely mastered until the early school years. Children should make all the sounds of English by 8 years of age but many children learn these sounds much earlier.

Someone has an articulation problem when he or she produces sounds, syllables or words incorrectly so that listeners do not understand what is being said. An articulation problem sometimes sounds like baby talk because many very young children do mispronounce sounds, syllables, and words. But words that sound cute when mispronounced by young children interfere with the communication of older children or adults.

Types of sound errors

Most errors fall into one of three categories: omissions, substitutions or distortions. An example of an omission is "at" for "hat" or "oo" for "shoe." An example of a substitution is the use of "w" for "r" which makes "rabbit" sound like "wabbit," or the substitution of "th" for "s" so that "sun" is pronounced "thun." When the sound is said inaccurately, but sounds something like the intended sound, it is called a distortion.

What causes an articulation problem?

Articulation problems may result from a hearing impairment. Children learn their speech sounds by listening to the speech around them. This learning begins very early in life. If children have frequent ear infections during this important listening period and subsequently suffer from glue ear, they may fail to learn some speech sounds.

Articulation problems may also be related to a weakness of the oral muscles.

  • A student with an articulation disorder may exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:

  • The student substitutes one sounds for another. (Example: wabbit for rabbit)

  • The student omits or distorts his speech sounds, making his speech difficult to understand. (“Top” for “stop”)

  • The student’s speech differs significantly from his peers of the same age, sex, or ethnic group.

  • The student exhibits poor speech intelligibility which interferes with his ability to participate in oral classroom activities.

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