In For Parents, Tips & Tricks

What’s the big trick behind being able to speak clearly? Being able to hear other people speak clearly.

When your child hears someone speak, they’ll use this as a model for correct speech. Then, when they speak, they’ll listen to themselves and compare the way they sound to how they hear other people speaking. If they sound the same, your child will know they are speaking correctly. If the speech sounds don’t match up, your child will try again until they do.

A Rule of Thumb

Children will master some sounds earlier than others. In general, here’s an easy rule of thumb for gauging how well they are developing1:

  • By age 2, someone unfamiliar with their voice should understand about 50% of what they say
  • By age 3, someone unfamiliar with their voice should understand about 75% of what they say
  • By age 4, someone unfamiliar with their voice should understand about 100% of what they say

This doesn’t mean that they’ll be speaking clearly with 100% accuracy—a child who’s 4 will still typically make some errors when they’re speaking—but we should be able to understand what they are saying.

Speaking with Hearing Loss

For a child with hearing loss, there are many factors that influence how they develop speech. For example, this could be: their level of hearing loss; how long they’ve had a hearing aid or cochlear implant; when they started using it and how often they have been wearing it; what kinds of rehabilitation they’re doing; etc.

While some of these factors are out of your control, use these six techniques to help your child develop the listening skills they need to speak clearly.

1. Talk More

Be more talkative. Talk about what you’re doing, what your child is doing, what you’re feeling and thinking, and what you think your child is feeling and thinking.

The more your child hears you speak words correctly, the better they’ll know how to pronounce them correctly.

2. Get Close to Your Child

When you talk with your child, get on their level. Move in close, lean or kneel down so that you’re close to them and their audio processor.

By getting closer, you’re making it easier for your child to hear you. It makes your speech stand out from the background noise. This way, your child will be able to clearly hear the details of your speech sounds.

3. Listening First

Talk first, before you show or do something. This will help your child develop their listening skills by listening to your speech. Add in visual cues to help your child understand only after your child has had a chance to listen to the information. This helps your child develop the auditory area of their brain, which is what they’ll use when monitoring their own speech.

4. Acoustic Highlighting

Acoustic highlighting is emphasizing words so that they stand out. If there are words or sounds your child is working on, you can highlight them by saying them slightly louder or slightly slower than the other words, or using a ‘sing-song’ voice when saying them.

This helps your child to focus on the specific word or the specific sound in the word.

5. Ask Questions with Choices

Ask questions that have multiple options. For example, if you’re focusing on developing a particular sound, like /g/, you could say “Do you want to go to the park, or go to grandma’s?”

This gives you the chance to repeat certain words targeting the particular sound, so your child has two chances to hear it and a chance to practice saying it..

6. Cause a Dilemma

Create a situation where your child has to come to you and tell you something. For example, you could put one of their favorite toys out of reach.

This gives your child the chance to tell you something on their own. And, it gives you the chance to either reinforce what they’ve said—if they said it correctly, or repeat it back to them correctly—if they haven’t.


This post was written with help from Rebecca Claridge, a speech and language pathologist.


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  1. Coplan, J., Gleason, J.R. (1988) Unclear speech: recognition and significance of unintelligible speech in preschool children. Pediatrics. 82(3 Pt 2):447-52.
  2. Ertmer, D.J., Goffman, L. A. (2011.) Speech Production Accuracy and Variability in Young Cochlear Implant Recipients: Comparisons with Typically Developing Age-peers. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research. February; 54(1):177–189
  3. Fulcher, A., Baker, E., Purcell, A. & Munro, N. (2014). Typical consonant cluster acquisition in auditory-verbal children with early-identifies severe/profound hearing loss. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. 16(1):69-81
  4. McLeod, S. & Bliele, K. (2003). Neurological and developmental foundation of speech acquisition. American Speech-Language –Hearing Association Convention : Invited seminar presentation. Chicago.



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