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Supporting unclear speech

Strategies to support unclear speech

You can try some of the following strategies to help children who are producing most or all of their speech sounds as expected but whose conversational speech is unclear or hard to understand. These children may be speaking too quietly or too fast. They may leave off sounds or jumble sounds or words together. Sometimes the rhythm or pausing of speech may be affected.

Identify clear and unclear speech in others

Explain to your child how some people are easier to understand than others. Use audio and video examples to show what you mean.

Demonstrate clear talking

Say or read some sentences to your child. Say some clearly and others mumbled, too fast, too quiet etc. Encourage your child to identify which is which.

Develop awareness

Your child may not be aware they are speaking unclearly. Try recording your child speaking and play it back. Encourage your child to listen to themselves talking and see how they would describe their speech. You may need to introduce some ways to help them talk about their speech, for example, do they think they are talking fast or quietly. Be careful not to sound too negative about their talking.

Reduce the rate of speech

Introduce the idea of speaking slowly and quickly. When children slow their talking down, their speech often becomes clearer. Encourage your child to say a sentence quickly and then slowly. Talk about how clear their speech sounded when they slowed down a little.

Another fun game to practice a child’s speed of talking is incorporating animals or objects.

  • Decide on three items with the child – one is fast, one is medium, and one is slow, for example, cheetah, tortoise and snail or racing car, bus, and bike.
  • Say a sentence and ask your child to decide if your speech is fast, medium, or slow. You may need to start with fast versus slow before introducing medium or middle speed.
  • Repeat with several pictures and sentences of different lengths.
  • Once your child can differentiate speech rates in adults then swap roles. Your child says a sentence about a picture and the adult decides whether it is slow, medium, or fast.
  • Keep checking with your child to see if you are right.

Use clapping or tapping to help with pace

  • Clap or tap each syllable.
  • Start off saying names of people and everyday objects etc. For example, Joe (1 clap), Mary (2 claps), Mohammad (3 claps).
  • Try simple phrases such as I see… or I like…
  • Once your child can use pacing in words and phrases, try out pacing while talking about a picture, reading, telling jokes, answering questions, or even clapping out the words in familiar songs and rhymes etc.

Consider volume

Some children need to be encouraged to talk a little more loudly or with more confidence. You can practise saying or reading sentences while projecting your voice to the back of the room. Talk about which situations and places need a loud voice and which need a quiet voice e.g. playing football outside, you might need to shout at your friends and in class you might need to talk more quietly,

Mirror work

Show your child how the mouth looks when speaking clearly or mumbling. Discuss how you need to move the articulators (tongue, lips, teeth) for the words to be clear.

Develop a cue

Introduce a cue or signal that will notify your child when they are not speaking clearly. This cue could be non-verbal such as putting your finger on your lips or placing your hand by your ear. You can use the cue to notify your child they are not speaking clearly and remind them to increase their volume, slow down the rate etc. Practice using the cue – it may take some reminders about the cue before your child notices it.


Talk to your child about when it may be important to speak clearly, such as when they are speaking with adults or on the telephone. Give your child opportunities to practice in structured tasks. If you are working with an older child, you may be able to agree on which activities they are going to try and speak more clearly in and then get them to feedback to you afterwards about how it went. Was it easy to speak clearly? Did it help? What will they do next time?


Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SL221

Resource Type: Article

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