Helping an ESL student with a lisp
October 23, 2007 6:07 AM   Subscribe

How best can a teacher address an ESL student's lisp or other speech impediments?

My girlfriend is teaching English in China and a couple of her students have lisps that make their spoken English extremely difficult to understand. While she does have training as a teacher of english as a foreign language, she has no training in dealing with speech impediments. The program at her university, similarly, has no real structure for dealing with this kind of problem. She'd like to help these students with their pronunciation, but has no idea where to start. The problem isn't limited to the students' English; the lisp is there when they speak Chinese. What sort of exercises can she give these students to help overcome their severe pronunciation problems? Is it even possible? If you had a lisp, is there something in particular that helped you with better pronunciation?
posted by msbrauer to Education (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
My son had a pronounced lisp but didn't qualify for speech services at his school since you could still understand him. We gave him the options of going to a speech therapist or trying to teach himself out of it. He chose the latter and he did an amazing job, especially considering he was just starting third grade at the time.

He watched us pronounce 's' and then stood in front of the mirror for several minutes every day watching himself do the 's' the right way. He came up with tongue twisters that forced him to say 's' in different parts of words. Basically, he was just very, very cognizant of the way he was speaking.
posted by cooker girl at 7:14 AM on October 23, 2007


I had a lisp as a child.

Here are my memories:
- Check for a hearing loss.
- Learn the correct tongue position.
- Lots of daily tongue twisters for practice.
- Consistent corrections/reminders by family and friends.
posted by 26.2 at 7:54 AM on October 23, 2007


It would be good to know whether the lisp is a "th" sound instead of the "s" where the tongue protrudes outward.

Or- if it's a lateral "s" where it sounds wet and sloppy (like how sylvester cat talked in the Looney Tunes cartoons.

There are a couple of ways of making a clear S depending on what the child is doing.

Lateral s:

You want to form a tunnel with your tongue so all the air is flowing out the front of the mouth and not out the sides.

The way I do it: The sides of my tongue go up to block airflow out of the sides of my mouth and the tip of my tongue stays down to produce a channel in which air flows only out the front of my mouth.

Frontal s:

Start with the "th" sound and tell the child to bite their tongue lightly while moving the tongue back slowly. Hopefully, the child can shape his th sound to an s.

I always start with S in isolation. If the child can say the sound by itself with 85% consistency, I move on to s + vowel, then vowel + s to get the s in the beginning and ends of words.

In Mandarin, there is no final s sound, so you won't have to worry about that.

Just off the top of my head, in Mandarin, the word for "who" is "say" with a rising intonation. The word for "speak" is "swo" with a high stable intonation. The word for "four" is just the "s" sound with a falling intonation. Perhaps there's a little Shwa vowel, but I think mostly it's the "s".

Maybe have your girlfriend find some more simple Chinese words that have the s sound and incorporate those into her lessons. One tongue twister I learned as a child was 40 lions. If she translates that into Mandarin, it's quite the mouthful.

There is a confounding factor: some regional dialects of Mandarin have various substitutions for s. It sounds like the school is also worried about these kids' s sounds so maybe that's not an issue where she is, but it's something to keep in mind. Anyway, sorry this was long. I work as a speech pathologist, so I was like Oh man! I have to answer this one.
posted by poq at 9:59 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


If it's possible, do get the hearing checked. I agree with 26.2. S is a high frequency sound and oftentimes, it's those high frequency sounds that go in a hearing loss.
posted by poq at 10:11 AM on October 23, 2007


Thanks for the answers everyone, especially poq! The people in question are at least 19 years old with several years of English study. My girlfriend can't remember clearly, but one of the students in question seems to have a lateral "s" problem. She hasn't taken the student aside one-on-one because classes have 30 students. The university isn't particularly worried about the kids' sounds beyond having a native English speaker there to help out.
posted by msbrauer at 4:53 PM on October 23, 2007


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