Ambliance. Hopsital. Pasgetti. Kelicopter. Jajamas. Any of these sound familiar?
When little children are learning to say long words with multiple syllables, then they often miss out, add in, or swap around some of the syllables. It’s super cute to begin with, but eventually your little one will need to start saying the words correctly, to sound more grown up. *
With practice, most of these words will eventually sort themselves out. But some words will be ‘stuck’ in the incorrect sequence. Your child has practiced saying “keksalator” many times, and their little brain and muscles will have set down a pattern that tells them that that is how to pronounce escalator!
How to change the sequence?
You can use a strategy called ‘backward chaining’. Backward chaining works because it removes the ‘thinking’ component – your child will not recognise the word and jump to the existing pattern – giving him the space to learn the correct way to pronounce the word.
This strategy makes the following assumptions:
- your child can say some other multisyllabic words clearly
- your child’s difficulty isn’t due to not being able to say a specific speech sound (eg. caterpillar will be really hard for a child who can’t say c or k – not because he has difficulties with syllables, but because c/k is not in his repertoire yet.)
- Choose your word.
- Practice saying the last syllable. Praise your child for getting it correct. To practice hamburger, you start with ‘ger’. To practice hippopotamus, you start with ‘mus’.
- Join up with the second last syllable, and practice. Keep repeating until they have this combination correct, and fluent – lots of praise! Hamburger becomes bur-ger. Hippopotamus becomes to-mus.
- Join up the third last syllable, and practice. This might be the whole word, if it’s got three syllables. Keep repeating it until they have this combination fluent. Gradually add more syllables if it’s a longer word.
- Practice the word in context. Make up some silly sentences (eg. I like tomato on my hamburger. I like sauce on my hamburger. I like flowers on my hamburger!) Or, you might be lucky and find the word in a book!
The easiest way to start this level of practice is for you to say the whole sentence, and then just get your child to say their special word. They can gradually build up their ability to say more words as well as the multisyllabic word.
- For longer words, such as hippopotamus, it might be easier to practice the last three syllables together, and then stop. STart again, but now only practice the first two syllables together (second syllable first). That then gives you hippo and potamus. Then blend them together as two words, rather than five individual syllables.
- You can draw the word, or print out a picture from your computer. Cut it into three pieces if it is a three syllable word, or four pieces for a four syllable word. Then point to each part as you practice.
- Use pointing cues – for some kids, pointing at the throat reminds them that there is a k or a g sound. Pointing at the teeth reminds them that there is a snake sound. Add the gesture cues at the appropriate places in the word.
- Add movement – bounce on a gym ball, jump through hoops, swing on a swing – one movement for each syllable. For some kids, this will make the word much easier to say. For other kids, it will make it MUCH harder. You will be able to tell which way your child responds!
*Record your child saying these big funny words before you correct them. Then you can save them for posterity, or to embarrass them at their 21st birthday party!
UPDATE: I have a new set of downloadable multisyllabic word picture cards – you can download a mini set for free, or the full collection for a grand $3. Check them out here.