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How the 3 Wise Monkeys help with learning to talk

Perhaps the one area of specialism within Speech and Language Therapy that differentiates our profession from all other related ones, is in diagnosing and treating Speech problems.

Often, a teacher or Mum will ask me how to help a child say a certain sound – most often, ‘s’, because that is one of the later sounds a child acquires. And other Mums will tell me their child muddles up his sounds in words, and can’t say sounds like ‘t’ or ‘k’.

I'm sure you'll agree that a two- going on three-year-old child is such fun to listen to!

Mums and Grans and other on-lookers smile in a gooey way at a little one who is talking about a ‘goggie’ (dog) or says something that needs some thought to work out – such as ‘Don’t like nginging nah-als’ (if you can’t work that one out, the answer is at the end of this sentence - it's in white text, so drag your cursor over it to see it!) Here's a clue: when my daughter was little, she would frequently say this during walks in the forest: "I don't like stinging nettles"!

Generally, there isn't much worry that a child may have something wrong with his talking. It is normal (and adorable) for little ones not to be able to speak clearly at first.

But when a child reaches three and a half or four, a hint of worry starts to come when it is hard to understand what he says, or it is only his Mum who really understands what he is saying.

For example, the sound 's' may be affected by the child getting his new teeth around 6 years, or by poor tongue coordination – which is linked to feeding and sucking habits or problems.

Speech Therapists look at the way a child speaks from a number of different angles, to make sure that we see what is actually going on and why there is a difficulty with his speech.

There are so many intricate links that a child needs to learn to coordinate, in order to communicate effectively. Just one of these can cause knock-on effects in the child’s overall talking and understanding. A Speech Therapist’s task is to tease out what exactly that one area of difficulty is – or more than one, in many cases.

In future posts, I will talk about different links that a child develops in learning to talk, and the sorts of problems that occur – and how you can help.

In today's post I am talking about the three most visible things needed for learning to talk.

This is where the three wise monkeys can help.

The Three Wise Monkeys

These famous monkeys usually represent : See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. In this post, they illustrate the importance of the mouth, ears and eyes in learning - not evil - but all the positive, wonderful things to do with communicating, and how you can help your child in that.

Here goes:

1. The mouth: tongue, lips, jaw. All need to work together to make fast, highly complex, transitions of movement for speech. Think about how you say the word ‘skate’. How many changes do you make in your mouth to say that word? Say it slowly, and count! (I will give the answer in another post very soon!)

This is why a baby starts at making gurgling sounds and simple ‘aaa’ noises, and progresses through from mmumum babbling to mixing up sounds later, like ‘badabannaaba’, by about 10 months. It is all practice – helped by the eating and drinking skills he is learning.

2. Ears: Try this out - When you are lying down, listen to the sounds around you, like your baby mostly does when he starts his life. Where are they coming from? What do they mean? How loud / soft are they?

Think about what your baby is hearing. Give him helpful information by making it possible to see what he is hearing, and talking about it. Research has shown that young babies recognise the footsteps of their mother coming to feed them, and know her voice. Similarly, new sounds make a baby curious or scared. Why else do we have so many toys that reflect fascination with sounds?

3. Eyes: yes – a baby really needs to be able to see well, to learn to talk well. Babies who have limited vision, need to rely on their hearing to interpret the world around them. Even at the beginning of life, a baby will turn to see where the sound is coming from and what makes the sound, but a baby with visual problems will be at a disadvantage.

Babies, too, who have physical limitations and poor muscle tone, cannot turn their heads easily, or sit up and watch things. Or who are unwell in other ways, - they miss out from the vital learning that comes through seeing the world around them. Children with limited vision and ‘squints’ need lots of extra verbal information to help them to learn vocabulary and ways to talk.

Older babies with visual difficulties need extra help in exploring the world around them, touching and experiencing in physical ways, and hearing things described and talked about.

How do you think you might talk about colour with a child who has visual problems – or maybe is colour blind?

For now, I would like to challenge you to think further about how your child learns to talk – and how you did too. Think about the three communication tools we have: mouth, ear, and eyes.

How can you enrich your child’s learning about the world around him in those three ways? Here are some ideas:

Mouth: Let your child try new tastes!

New taste and texture experiences – trying different foods out, even if your child doesn’t immediately enjoy them, and keeping on giving them to him, in different forms.

A tip: try out new tastes when your child is hungry, to optimise him liking it!

Ears: Explore with your child new places and different sounds!

Trying out new sounds with your child, music, other languages, animal or vehicle sounds – give him a different listening experience and talk about it with him.

Eyes: Put your baby 'specs' on!

Give your baby opportunities to see things around him, outside the home, as well as in your home.

Surprise yourself by thinking about the things your baby has not yet seen properly, or from a different angle, and show him – and talk about it, demonstrate what you do with it. For example, a saucepan, or a plant.

Above all - making the effort to rise above the tiredness and busy-ness of baby times is so worthwhile. When it sometimes feels a struggle just to get through the daily routines, make 2 or 3 minute opportunities to have fun with your baby as part of your routines, and explore their bright new world with them.

Warm wishes for a wonderful new Year!



My daughter when she was young would say "I don't like nginging nah-ells", which really meant, "stinging nettles!"

Links & References:

Picture 1 (above):

Picture 2 (below):

Wix Images (free to use)

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