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Speech in the Schools

Blending Clusters

Published October 30, 2015 8:36 AM by Teresa Roberts

Clients working on cluster blends, /pl/, /bl/, /fl/, /kl/, /gl/, and /sl/, may initially demonstrate vowel epenthesis, inserting a schwa between two consonants, e.g., “puh-lay” for “play”, and altering the syllable shape from CCV to CVCV. We can directly teach how to blend consonants to produce near simultaneous release of sound – and lose the schwa (“uh”).

After a client has mastered placement for alveolar /l/, blends may be challenging. Make sure the client is familiar with the parts of the mouth and how sounds are produced, e.g., identification of articulators (tongue, lips, jaw), tongue tip placement, lip sounds (/p/ and /b/) versus tongue sounds (/k/ and /g/), etc. A basic understanding of speech sound production lets us describe how /l/ blends involve anticipation and preparation. Speakers are generally already in position for the next sound in a sequence, before they have even started to speak.

“When you say two sounds together at the start of word, you say them at almost the exact same time. Our mouth is actually ready to say two sounds together.”

/pl/ and /bl/: “Open your mouth wide and lift your tongue tip to the bumps right behind your front teeth (alveolar ridge) for /l/. Now freeze your tongue there. Don’t move it. Ready? Close your lips and keep you tongue tip high. Is your tongue tip still behind your teeth? Great! Ready? When you open your lips for the /p/ sound, then say the /l/ sound, too. Your lips will say /p/ while your tongue says /l/. They will both be saying sounds at the same time.”

/fl/: Follow the same directions for /l/ placement at the alveolar ridge. “Keep your tongue tip up high for /l/. Now lightly bite your lower lip to get ready for /f/. Is your tongue tip still touching the top of your mouth? Great! Ready? Just as soon as you start making the ‘ffff’ sound for /f/, start make your /l/ sound. They can come out together.”

SEE ALSO: It's All About That Alveolar Ridge


/kl/ and /gl/: The back of the tongue and the tip of tongue are both active. Production of /l/ is slightly retracted from the alveolar ridge because of the velar production of /k/ or /g/. “Let’s make a /k/ sound.” (Have client look in a mirror with a flashlight to see tongue retraction.) “The back of your tongue is doing the work. See how far it pulled back in your mouth? Now we’re going to see if we can make the tip of your tongue work too. Freeze the back of your tongue for /k/ and see if you can point your tongue tip up toward the roof of your mouth. Let’s see if the back of your tongue can make a /k/, while the front of your tongue makes an /l/.”

/sl/: “Your tongue stays up high for /s/ and never drops. Start your /s/ sound with your tongue tip up, and as soon as you start it, tap your tongue to the top of your mouth for /l/. The /s/ is really fast because your tongue is starting the /l/ as soon as it can.”

Some clients benefit from specific explanations of placement and movement to sequence sound combinations. Our knowledge of speech science lets us describe the co-articulatory process.

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About this Blog


    Speech in the Schools
    Occupation: School-based speech-language pathologists
    Setting: Traditional and specialized K-12 classrooms
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