Articulation is the process by which words and sounds are formed when the lips, tongue, jaw, teeth, and palate adjust the air coming from the vocal folds. A person has an articulation problem when he or she produces words or sounds incorrectly; listeners cannot understand what is being said or pay more attention to the way the words sound than what they mean.
Articulation problems can be caused by physical circumstances such as a cleft palate, a disease that causes difficulties producing words/sounds, or hearing loss, or may be related to other problems in the mouth, such as dental problems. Articulation problems can also result from cerebral palsy.
Most articulation difficulties occur without any obvious physical disability. Difficulty learning early speech sounds may be the root cause. Children learn their speech sounds by listening to the speech around them. This learning begins very early in life. Problems with ears during early childhood may lead to a failure to learn some speech sounds.
What are some types of sound errors?
Most difficulties can be categorized as an “omission”, a “substitution”, or a “distortion”. An omission could sound like "id" for "lid" or "oo" for "blue." A substitution might sound like a "w" for an "r" which makes "rascal" sound like "wascal," or the substitution of "th" for "s" so that "soda" sounds like "thoda." When the sound simply sounds “wrong” or inaccurate, but sounds something like what the person intended, that is called a distortion.
Children with Articulation Problems
Some children will “outgrow” a functional articulation problem, but some children will need to be trained to avoid their articulation errors. An assessment by a speech-language pathologist will help to determine whether or not a child should receive therapy. A child's overall speech pattern will usually become more understandable as he or she matures.
Help children by modeling accurate articulation: clearly, with emphasis, repeat the misarticulated word in context; for example, if a child says, “I’d like a thoda,” offer, “Would you like a soda? A grape soda is in the refrigerator. Would you like a grape soda?”
Don't interrupt or constantly correct a child. Don't let anyone (including friends or relatives) tease or mock the child. Instead, present a good example. Use the misarticulated word correctly, with emphasis.
Adults with Articulation Problems
Adults also can be faced with articulation problems. The longer the person has been faced with the difficulty, the harder it is to change, but most articulation problems can be helped regardless of a person's age. Dysarthria (nerve impulses affecting the muscles that are used in articulation) takes longer to help than other types of articulation disorders. Hearing, problems with physical conditions in the mouth or tooth structure, cognitive disorders, frequency of health obtained, and a general cooperative spirit can also affect the person’s ability to overcome articulation difficulties.
An articulation problem sometimes sounds like "baby talk" because many very young children mispronounce sounds, syllables and words. But words that sound cute when mispronounced by young children interfere with the communication of older children and adults.
Contact a speech-language pathologist if you are concerned about speech. Early help is especially important for more severe problems. A speech-language pathologist can be found here.
ASHA, the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association, whose material was referenced in the creation of this material, states, “When you consider the possible impact an articulation problem may have on one's social, emotional, educational, and/or vocational status, the answer becomes obvious. Our speech is an important part of us. The quality of our lives is affected by the adequacy of our speech.”
Click here for our brochure on Learning about Articulation.