Speech Sounds and Literacy

Reading and writing are essential skills for children to learn. Being literate means that a person can understand written instructions, search for information online or in books, send text messages, and participate in learning.

Research shows that children with persisting speech difficulties are likely to have trouble acquiring literacy skills. Children need to be able to link letters and their sounds in order to accurately read and write them. For example, a child who reduces clusters (e.g. produces ‘poon’ instead of ‘spoon’) may not appropriately develop the phonological awareness skills of separating or blending sounds, leading to difficulties with sounding out the word when reading or trying to write. Therefore, the word ‘spoon’ may be read inaccurately, such as ‘soon’ or ‘soup’.

Literacy skills become increasingly more difficult as longer, more complicated words are introduced to the vocabulary. Words with multiple syllables (polysyllables) can be tough to produce for a child with multiple errors. For example, a child may produce ‘eppen’ for ‘elephant’, due to weak syllable deletion, stopping of /f/ and cluster reduction. It’s not difficult to see how a child can be so difficult to understand!

When children learn to read and write, those persisting difficulties can affect how they read sounds and spell words. This leads to problems with their ability to read and understand longer pieces of information, such as instructions and books. They may also struggle to compose texts that can be understood. Now it’s not difficult to see how a child can learn to dislike literacy work!

So what can you do? Work on vocabulary, including lots of words with particular sounds (e.g. if your child produces ‘f’ instead of ‘th’, such as ‘fing’ instead of ‘thing’). This helps them to recognise the sound and distinguish it from others. Teach letters and the sounds they relate to, and read books that include the sounds you want to work on. This helps the child to recognise letter formations, words and sentences. Point out writing in different contexts, such as street signs, cards, labels and web pages. Improve phonological awareness – the ability to manipulate sounds to form different sounds, syllables and words. If our child is struggling, contact a speech pathologist extra help.

Joke: What do you call it when alpacas with speech impediments take over the Earth? The alpacalisp.


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