Episode 22: My Opinion about the 4 Causes of Your Child’s Pronunciation Difficulties

Today’s topic is all about the 4 causes for your child’s pronunciation difficulties. Pronunciation is the actual mechanics i.e. how you enunciate. Pronunciation has got to do with speech which is very different from language. Please visit this post to learn the difference between speech and language.

4 reasons for your child having pronunciation difficulties

The 4 causes for your child’s pronunciation difficulties

1. Age

If your child is younger, they are more likely to have pronunciation difficulties which is expected and appropriate. We do not expect a 2 or 3 year old child to pronounce words as well as a 5 year old. Please visit this blog post to find out what the expected speech intelligibility rates for different aged children are. This post will help you gauge whether your child’s pronunciation is up to par. If your child is 4 years and below, you need not worry too much about their pronunciation as they are expected to have pronunciation errors. But if you feel like you need further advise on their pronunciation errors, you can visit a speech therapist near you.

2. Hearing

If a child is not hearing and when I say hearing, am not referring to a child that has severe hearing impairment. When I talk about hearing as a cause for your child’s pronunciation difficulties, I mean, if your child is not getting a clear enough sound signal. I am always having to expain to parents that as a speech therapist, I am not just interested in whether their child’s hearing organ is working well but I am also interested in the pathway to the hearing organ. This pathway is made up of the outer ear and the middle ear and the inner ear where the hearing organ is housed. Please visit this post to learn more about hearing loss and hearing tests.

A child needs to have optimal access to sound for them to be able to pronounce accurately. I have found during the duration of my practising speech therapy that one of the main causes of a child’s articulation and pronunciation difficulties is denied access to sound. Denied access to sound could be caused by frequent ear infections, colds or flus. These infections often result to water and fluid being trapped in the middle ear. And if fluid is trapped in the middle ear, a child will not be able to get a clear enough sound signal. Please visit this post to learn more about fluids in the ears.

In summary, pronunciation difficulties is caused by hearing difficulties on children who either have profound hearing impairment or children who have obstructed pathways (wax) i.e. children who either have conductive hearing loss or sensory hearing loss.

This is why your child has pronunciation difficulties

3. Medically diagnosed condition/physiological impairments

These medically diagnosed conditions or physiological impairments or anomalies include:

  1. Cerebral palsy- Children who have cerebral palsy tend to have quite flaccid muscles that make pronunciation sound a little imprecise or distorted. This kind of distorted speech is called dysarthric speech . 
  2. Down syndrome- Children with down syndrome tend to have pronunciation difficulties that they need to attend speech therapy to be able to remediate.
  3. Children born with cleft palate – These children have obligatory errors that prevents them from achieving the right environment for articulating specific sounds. My private speech therapy clinic in partnership with Smile works to provide FREE speech therapy for children with repaired cleft palate. Please visit this post to learn more about the work that we do for children with repaired cleft palate.
  4.  Ankyloglossia– A technical term for tongue tie. Tongue-tie means that there is a restricted frenulum. The Frenulum is the “string- like” organ that is below the tongue. A tongue tie could cause pronunciation difficulties particularly with specific sounds.

4. If they have been on a pacifier or dummy for a prolonged period of time or if they have been sucking their thumb or fingers

Your child will for sure have some kind of pronunciation difficulties if they have been sucking their tone or dummy for a prolonged period of time. Prolonged use of a pacifier or dummy cause your child to start thrusting their tongue, a condition known as tongue thrusting. It can also alter dentition which can be corrected through orthodontic intervention when they are teenagers i.e. they can wear braces.

I have also found that children who suck their thumb or fingers usually end up lisping. Lisping is when you dentalise your tongue. Dentalising your tongue is when you stick your tongue between your teeth for sounds that do not require you to.

Final word

These 4 reasons summarise why your child may be having pronunciation difficulties. Please check out our other educative and empowering resources.

Hi, I'm your teacher

Lorna Muthamia-Ochido

I run a family-centred speech-language therapy clinic, the largest in East and Central Africa. I’ve helped 15,000+ children optimise their communication outcomes (in other words, I make children smarter ☺).

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