This is the next in our series of posts about how to teach specific speech sounds. We already have posts about how to teach “f”, how to teach “s” and “how to teach “k”. This post is about the “g” sound. Along with “k”, this is one of the sounds I work on most frequently.
When should a child be able to say g?
It is very common for young children to pronounce both k and g sounds wrongly. The usual error is to say “d” in place of “g” (and either “t” or “d” in place of “k”). So for example, the child will say “date” for “gate” or “pid” for “pig”. This post assumes that this is the error that your child is making. If your child is making a different error, please consult a speech and language therapist.
“c/k” and “g” sounds are usually said correctly by the time the child is around 4 years old. Check out this post for more information about which sounds to expect when. Since some children in the UK start school at the age of just 4, it is not unusual to have children starting school who are not yet able to say these sounds correctly.
When should I be concerned?
If you are concerned about a child’s speech, you should always consult a speech and language therapist. However, here are some factors as well as age that might affect whether a child needs therapy or not:-
- What error are they making? If they are making the usual error described above (“d” instead of “g”) then I would be less concerned than if they are using a more unusual pattern such as “b” instead of “g”.
- Are they using the sound in any words? Are they consistently making this error? Can they use the sound at the end of words? Or at the beginning? In the middle? Particularly take notice of blends (gl and gr). I come across quite a few children who don’t usually use a “g” sound but use it in the “gl” blend in a word such as “glasses”.
- Is it just these sounds that the child is struggling with or is it part of a bigger problem? Is the child difficult to understand?
How is a “g” sound produced?
“c/k”, “g” and “ng” are the only speech sounds in English which are produced using the back part of your tongue. You touch the back part of your tongue to the back part of the roof of your mouth.
Stand in front of a mirror, open your mouth and say “g” – watch what your tongue is doing. Knowing how the sound is produced is an important step in being able to teach it to someone else.
If a child is saying “d” instead of “g”, they are using their tongue tip instead and making the sound too far forward in their mouth. They are putting their tongue tip on the ridgey bit behind their teeth.
The only difference between “c/k” and “g” is that “g” uses your vocal cords and “c/k” doesn’t. This has the effect of making “g” sound like a louder sound.
How can I teach a child to say a “g” sound?
Firstly, a word of caution. We are going to share some strategies to encourage a child to say these sounds. Some children are able to say a new sound quite quickly, with the right prompting. Others need a lot more help. If you are waiting for a speech and language therapy assessment, do some listening practice first. You can find out more about how to do this by reading this link and this link. If your child gets good at this, try some of the strategies in this post. Do a session of just a few minutes, 2 or 3 times. If after that your child is still struggling to say the sound, please stop and try again in a few months’ time or wait for your speech and language therapy assessment. It’s really important that your child is not practising a wrong pattern or becoming demoralised or self-conscious. Remember to keep any practise fun.
Secondly, most children who can’t say “g”, also struggle with “c/k”. For a variety of reasons, I usually start by trying to teach “c/k”. Read this post to find out more about how to do this. Many children don’t need “g” to be explicitly taught once they have mastered “c/k”, though some do. However, some children really struggle with “c/k” and find “g” easier, especially when it comes to putting the sound into words. If this is the case, I will sometimes teach “g” first and come back to “c/k” afterwards.
When teaching a new sound, use as many different methods as you can to help them. Give instructions, show them, use a gesture and use a picture too. There is more information about this here.
- The first thing I always do is to ask the child to “say this sound right at the back”. I make sure the child is watching me and then open my mouth really wide so that they can see the back part of my tongue moving. For some children this is the only prompt they need!
- If they still find the sound difficult, get them to look in a mirror so that they can see what they are doing. Ask them to keep their mouth open and to watch in the mirror to make sure their mouth doesn’t close. It is hard to say a “d” sound with your mouth open so hopefully this will encourage them to use the back of their tongue. Praise all tries – this is really hard! Also, always ask them to say lots of sounds they can say easily too.
- Finally, if your child is really struggling to keep their tongue tip down, you could try asking them to use one or two fingers to hold it down. Be very careful with this – just one or two fingers and make sure they don’t push them too far in – we don’t want them to gag themselves or have a mouth so full that they can’t speak! I usually ask the child to “hold that wriggly tongue down with your finger” and then show them by using my own finger to hold my tongue tip down. Try this on yourself in front of a mirror first so that you really know what you are asking the child to do. If you are at all unsure, just stick with the other strategies.
Once your child is able to say the single sound consistently, you need to start working towards putting the sound into words. Don’t do this until they are able to say the sound without using fingers to help. There is more information about the process of therapy in this post or you could check out our online course which will lead you by the hand through the whole process of teaching a new sound with videos, handouts and practical activities to complete.