Speech Sounds S. How to Stimulate the /s/ Sound

Speech Sounds S. This webpage gives practical advice on how to elicit the /s/ sound in in young children.

Disclaimer: The techniques to be found on this page are written specifically for speech-language clinicians to use with their clientele.

Teachers and parents may also find useful advice here, but the information should not be considered as an alternative to comprehensive speech assessment and intervention. If your child has speech errors please ensure they are assessed by a qualified speech-language pathologist in your local area.

If you have queries about your child's speech development please contact professional organizations such as Speech Pathology Australia , the American Speech and Hearing Association or the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists if you live in the UK.

Unearthing the Target Sound - Speech Sounds S cont..

Imitation: Imitation is an important technique when teaching a child any new speech sound. Imitation requires the child to copy the clinician's correct model of a speech sound. For instance, the clinician first engages the child's full attention and then produces a clear /s/ sound. The clinician is then silent and the child is encouraged to copy exactly the sound the clinician has produced.

In many cases of course the child will struggle to accurately reproduce the sound. This is fine, because the child's inability to correctly reproduce a clear target sound gives the clinician a good understanding of how the child's speech error is occurring.

Phonetic Placement: This is perhaps the most popular method of unearthing new and correct speech sounds in young children. Essentially the clinician demonstrates to the child how to correctly place their tongue, teeth and lips - their articulators, in order to produce the correct speech sound.

The techniques of imitation and phonetic placement will be explored on this page.

The /s/ Sound - Speech Sounds S cont...

Correct /s/ Sound Production

The /s/ sound is a stream of air (fricative) sound. The /s/ is voiceless. That is, the larynx does not vibrate as it does on its voiced partner, the /z/ sound.

To produce a clear /s/ sound the tongue is raised high in the mouth to almost touch the alveolar ridge, the roof of the mouth. This action by the tongue should create a groove in the center of the tongue through which the air stream flows. Because the tongue constricts the space through which the breath stream travels, the /s/ sound should have a faint hissing quality to it.

Some Common /s/ Sound Errors - Speech Sounds S cont...

Lisp (Interdental) Sound Error - Speech Sounds S cont...

Perhaps the most common /s/ sound error is the interdental /s/. As the term suggests, the tongue pokes through (inter) the teeth (dental). The sound produced is actually the /th/ sound. So yes becomes yeth.

Demonstrate to the child what the error is by producing an interdental /s/ and comment on how the tongue pokes through the teeth and changes the sound to a /th/.

Next, demonstrate a correct /s/. Ask the child to feel with their tongue where the roof of their mouth is, particularly the alveolar ridge, the bumpy ridge just behind the top teeth. Have the child produce an air stream and note the position of their tongue. You can even block the air stream by touching the alveolar ridge with the tongue tip. This is an interesting sensation and immediately stops the air flow.

By lowering the tongue just a little, the air stream is released and a clear /s/ should issue forth. To ensure that the child doesn't poke their tongue tip through their teeth remind him/her that the tongue needs to be retracted (wound back) a little until it is just behind the teeth. It should never poke through the teeth.

Lateral /s/ Sound Error - Speech Sounds S cont

The lateral /s/ sound is made by the child directing the air stream to the sides (lateral) of the mouth (oral cavity). The sound produced has a 'slushy,' noisy quality to it.

The lateral /s/ is a difficult sound to eradicate. It requires the child to fundamentally alter the position of their tongue in the oral cavity. When producing a lateral /s/, the child will automatically retract the tongue and retract their lips much more than for a typical /s/ sound.

If you produce the lateral /s/ sound yourself you should notice that once the tongue is retracted the air stream slips over the sides of the tongue. Another feature is that the tongue blade and/or tip will touch the roof of the mouth. With a typical /s/ sound this never happens.

Because the air escapes around the sides of the tongue, there is a much larger space for the air to travel through, which, again, is much different from the typical /s/. This escaped air volume produces the slushy sound quality.

To effectively combat lateral /s/, the child needs to produce and develop a central air flow. That is, the air stream needs to flow along the central groove of the tongue, not escape around the sides.

One way of doing this is for the child to feel in their mouth for the location of the alveolar ridge. Ask the child to feel for the bumpy ridge just behind their top teeth at the roof of the mouth. Use the terms roof of mouth or top of mouth, depending on the child's ability to conceptualize their own oral cavity.

With their tongue tip touching the alveolar ridge, just behind the top teeth, ask the child to lightly pucker their lips. As in the instructions previous about the interdental /s/, the tongue position thus adopted will automatically block any outgoing air stream. And, importantly, this position automatically thrusts the tongue forward. Instruct the child to lower their tongue tip a fraction to release the airstream.

Due to the tongue position, the air stream cannot flow anywhere but over the top of the tongue, through the central groove. If this sequence is followed correctly a clear /s/ will occur.

Other segments devoted to Speech Sounds S will be added to as they become available.


Secord, W. (1981) Eliciting Sounds: Techniques for Clinicians. The Psychological Corporation

Van Riper, C. & Erickson, R.L. (1996) Speech Correction: An Introduction to Speech Pathology and Audiology. Allyn & Bacon

Williams, A.L. McLeod, S. & McCauley, R.J.(2010)Interventions for Speech Sound Disorders in Children. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Content Updated 9/11

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