To correct or not to correct - which is correct?!

You've read all the literature out there and the speech and language therapist tells you not to correct the child;  just model it back and somehow they're 'magically' picking up that they've not been doing the sound right.

Sometimes that's OK.

In fact when a child is very little and it's normal for them not to be saying some of the sounds then it's OK to say "that's right it's a sssspider" and they'll be able to hear that and model it back.

But when they've got beyond that age and once you've established that they really should have that sound by now then how do they know that they have to change their speech sounds?  If you're modeling back to them, then they're thinking "oh good,  they can understand me so I don't need to do anything." If they're saying it's a "tawwo"  and you're saying "that's right it is a carrot" why would they need to change it?

So I actually feel that we should be looking at correcting them from time to time - and if you're not sure about when that time is, you can assess their speech using my app - the information is also available on this blog - it gives you an indication of whether or not the child is where they should be with their speech or whether there are some sounds in need of fixing.

So, I'm going to give you a few do's and don'ts around correcting so that everybody's happy!

3 reasons why you wouldn't correct a child

These are very very important and you might not know until you try and correct them but if the following happens, then you would just say OK I'm not going to do that again just yet! 

1)  If a child's well-being is impacted upon by correcting the child - if they become anxious or withdrawn or they refuse to imitate or to say back because they feel that they've done something wrong, then obviously that's a big no-no. I generally find that this doesn't happen because of the manner in which I correct. I tend to correct in a very fun playful way.  I don't say "It's not tar it's car CC CAR" or "how many times have I told you don't say tar you say car" or "why can't you do that all the time?" [But I have heard that being said in some settings.]

2) If a child can't yet say the sound physically.  So if they are struggling to imitate a sound, then there's no point correcting them because they can't correct themselves....yet!! 

3) If the child's having speech therapy and they're working on a particular sound and they can just about say it by itself, but they can't blend it with a vowel yet.  Again that would be another reason not to correct them, but instead, give them lots of opportunities to practice that sound by itself.  For example, you could draw the sound in the sand and say I made a "K" or you could say "I'm taking a picture of you (with your imaginary camera) and it says "K" when  I click the cmaera. 

So those are the three times that you wouldn't perhaps correct a child. But when you can correct a sound in a positive way, then there is a much quicker generalisation into everyday conversation than if you just let the children do it by themselves. Here are some ways you could do this:

  • To begin with, you could just point out "oh that's one of your special sounds in that word" so if they said "I got a tar" you could say "you have got a car - that's one of your special sounds" then they have an opportunity to fix it themselves if they want to but there's no pressure. You've pointed out that they haven't done the right sound in a positive way and you're giving them the opportunity to fix it if they want to.
  • The next way of correcting a child would be to say "tar?" with an expression of 'I'm not sure what you said just then" and then just wait (count to ten silently in your head!) for the child to process "she's just said Tar.... I thought I said car.... hang on a minute..... let me fix it up. Car" and then they'll say the word and you can say "oh wow I love the way you fix that word up when you thought about it that was fantastic you're right it is a car"
  • If the child is not able to fix up the words yet you might say to them " is it a tar or a car?" - then they're able to repeat the word. The issue with this is they're not thinking for themselves they'll just say car but they then haven't actually put any thought into it. So if you give them the opportunity to think about it, and then fix it up by themselves, there will be more carry-over.
  • If the child is reading, this is a great time to correct their target sound as they can see the visual prompt.
  • If the child is working on a target sound you might pick one "word of the week" where they will always be corrected; a word that is regularly used like "four" or "coat" or the class teacher's name. If the child only has to think about one word (but a really useful word!) then they will become confident that they are remembering to use it!

A couple of words of warning about correcting:

  • Avoid the praise with the sting in its tail. That's when you correct, but add on a negative comment at the end! Something like "that's fantastic - Why can't you remember that all the time?" or "that's fantastic - you really should be using that sound by now." Just praise. 
  • Avoid correcting the rest of the word if they get that word wrong too. So, for example, imagine that the child is saying "ewebun" for elephant and their target sound is "L." If they fix it up to "elebun" that's great - don't try to get them to do the rest of the word. Because do you know what? It's bloody hard remembering to use different sounds all the time. If you don't believe me, try spending a day using "sh" instead of "s." You might spend the first few minutes sounding like Sean Connery, (Yesh, Mish Moneypenny!" but after that, you'll keep forgeting because your muscle memory has created a habit and habits are hard to break!

And lastly....

I say to a child at least once a day something like "I really love the way you fixed your word up there because I didn't understand you and then you fixed your words and then I could understand you."  This then gives them a reason to think about their speech and it gives them the motivation to want to change how they speak. I hope this has been useful - as always, give it a try and let me know how it goes - or head over to my FB page and share your tips for correcting.

I've also got a VIP Group for Supporting Speech, Language and Communication for EYPs on facebook- come along and join the discussion!