I was working with a bright student who has difficulty producing /r/ and consonant clusters. He was explaining about writing computer code in Java script. The word “script” was challenging for him. We stopped the conversation to practice it.
“Did you know that script is ‘crypt’ with an ‘s’ at the beginning?” I asked, while writing ‘script’ and ‘crypt’ on a piece of paper. “And ‘crypt’ is actually ‘ripped’ with a ‘k’ sound at the beginning,” I continued while writing ‘k + ripped.’ “In fact, ‘ripped’ is ‘rip’ with a ‘t’ sound added at the very end,” I concluded. We now had a list of words of increasing complexity to practice. We analyzed articulatory movement within each word.
• “rip”: Your tongue starts in the back for /r/. Pull your tongue to the back of your mouth and have the sides of your tongue slide up to your back molars for /r/. Then your tongue zooms to the middle of your mouth for “i”, like in the word “it”, and you smile a little bit (spread your lips). Then your lips jump in and close for /p/.
• “ripped” or “rip+t”: Now we have to get ready for the /p/ and the /t/ sound to come out together. When you close your lips for /p/, make sure your tongue tip is up high behind your front teeth for /t/. When you open your lips, the /p/ and the /t/ come out at the same time.
• “crypt” or “k+rip+t: Your tongue starts way in the back for /k/. From the /k/ spot, lift the sides of your tongue up to your molars to make a valley for the /r/ sound to come through.
• “script” or “s+k+rip+t: Here’s the tricky part. Your tongue starts up high behind the front teeth for /s/, and then it has to zoom back for /k/ and /r/.
We found smaller words within the target word. We described tongue movement and presence/absence of lip involvement. Each phoneme has a different profile. We described why some transitions are easier than others, e.g., front to back tongue excursion and lip/tongue involvement.
Having the student increase his awareness of his articulators, using a mirror, and analyzing placement sound-by-sound gave us the opportunity to discuss motor muscle movements. Speech is the finely coordinated timing of articulatory contacts. We can help students recognize why certain words are more challenging than others.