How to Speak Slowly and Cleary
How to Help Children Talk Slower
Teaching children how to speak slowly and clearly is very important. I have worked with children for over 30 years as a speech-language pathologist. Helping children to talk slower or to slow down their speech is often the biggest thing you can do to make their speech easier to understand. When children talk too quickly their words can get pushed together and they don’t give themselves time to say the sounds properly. If you need to work on individual speech sounds please see my Speech Programs.
The best speed to slow down to is often a bit like Mr. Rogers or someone with a mild Southern Accent. The vowels are stretched out just a bit but it still sounds natural and easy to listen to.
Often the first step is to create awareness. Your child needs to understand how fast to talk. Simply telling a child to, “Slow down” rarely helps. The language you use needs to be meaningful for your child.
One way to do this is to use a label for each speed.
This visual has three different sets of labels that I use with children. The first is for young children and shows a Sloth, a Turtle and a Cheetah. The sloth talks too slow, the turtle talks just right and the cheetah talks much too fast.
The second set of pictures is for older children who need more labels and adds in a Boy Walking a Dog and a Horse. The boy with the dog is an average speed and the horse is a bit too fast.
The last strip uses just numbers to represent the different speeds. Older children appreciate being asked to slow down to a 2 rather than asked to talk like a turtle. Using numbers also makes it easy to give children a quick signal to let them know how what speed they are talking at. Just hold up your fingers.
Please feel free to change the pictures in my visuals to whatever makes sense to you and your child. Some children would rather talk like their favorite animal than a turtle. Use whatever works for you. This is a Microsoft Word version that you can edit. Slowing Down Visual in Word Document.
Demonstrate the different speeds. Play games where you say how fast the other person is talking. Try talking so fast that your child can’t understand what you are saying – no one understands cheetahs. By practicing different rates of talking you are giving your child awareness and control over their speed.
During practice and throughout the day let your child know how fast they are talking. Let your child know that the easiest speed to understand is a turtle – or number 2. You can easily show older children how fast they are talking or how fast you want them to talk by holding up the right number of fingers. Try to catch your child talking at the right speed. Let them know what a great job they are doing!
If a child needs more than just awareness to slow down, try Pacing. One way to pace is to use a pacing stip.
My pacing strips use Turtles and Happy Faces. Show your child how to hold their finger down on each Turtle or Happy Face as you say the words in a short sentence. Try to keep your finger on the picture until you are finished the word. This will help to stretch out the words and keep the sentence from becoming choppy. The best way to slow down words is to slightly stretch out the vowel sounds.
Another good way to pace is to “Count the words on your fingers”. To do this hold up a finger for each word that you say. Hold up your fingers slowly as you say each word. We don’t want speech to be excessively choppy. Young children often have a hard time coordinating their finger movements with talking. It doesn’t matter if they are exactly matching their fingers to their words as long as it is helping them slow down. Using your fingers is nice as they are always with you.
You can use this visual to remind your child to Slow Down and Count the Words.
If you are working on longer words you can hold down a dot or hold up a finger for each part of the word but try to not put spaces in between the syllables. Words need to flow naturally.
To practice pacing, start with a simple activity such as looking at a book with pictures. You would say a short sentence about something you see. “The dog is happy”. Say the sentence slowly using one of the pacing methods. Now have your child take a turn. If needed tap or hold up your fingers as they are talking. It doesn’t have to be exactly one finger or tap for each word, especially for younger children, as long as your child is slowing down. Continue to practice taking turns counting or tapping out the words until your child has the idea.
Now when your child is having a hard time telling you something because they are talking too fast tell them, “Talk like a turtle”, “Use speed 2”, “Tap out the words”, or “Use your fingers”. Encourage older children to figure out what they need to do to make themselves understood. I don’t think dad knows what you said, what could you do?” Here is more information on using Repair Strategies for Speech.
Parents always understand their children better than anyone else. Ask yourself if most other people would understand what your child said. If they wouldn’t then it’s a good idea to work on slowing down to a point where most people would be able to understand.
The most powerful way to help children to slow down is to slow down yourself. Children naturally copy what they hear. Try pacing out your own words. Tell others in the family to talk like Turtles.
A great way to slow down a conversation is to take a short pause before answering back. Pause for a couple of seconds before saying something back to your child – or your spouse.
If you would like to pace using a tablet I would recommend considering the Conversation Paceboard or the Turtle Pacing Board apps. They both have pictures that fill with color as you press on them. This can help children to stretch out the words for the right amount of time. While I use and often recommend both of these apps, I have no professional connection with them.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
I can be reached at SLP@Speech-TherapyAtHome.com
Madison Garvie – SLPatHome