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Should you correct your child's mispronunciations? or... Mole's esspeggtables

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

I was re-reading the Tales From Acorn Wood board books (Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler) with my preschooler yesterday, and when we got to his favourite book in the series he shouted out with glee: "Yes! Mole's esspeggtables!" My heart swelled up with love for him and his gorgeous mispronunciation, said with such utter conviction it made my tummy ache. I asked him twice over "What is Mole looking for, sweetheart?" purely to hear him declare, "his esspeggtables, mama!" One of those beautiful, joyful little moments of parenting that sets your heart aglow.

And then I got to thinking... should I really be revelling in these moments, enjoying his mistakes? Or should I be correcting him, thinking of his speech and language development? Is my gentle enjoyment of this moment actually doing more harm than good?

Aside from insisting on kindness, good manners and expressing love for family, I have never pushed my kids to do anything or to be anything, trusting that they will end up where they need to be in good time. So my gut instinct was to say nothing and enjoy the moment safe in the knowledge that he'd grow out of it in good time, at his own pace. But what if I was wrong? What if my reaction was detrimental, serving to solidify speech errors and delay his development?

So, I jumped online to see what the experts had to say...

The consensus amongst most speech and language therapists, is that rather than correct your child ("it's not a esspeggtables O-Dod, it's spectacles") you should engage in modelling, that is, without telling the child they’ve said the word incorrectly, you say the word yourself how it should sound ("Ah look, he's found his spectacles!"). The paramount thing is that the child remains confident in their communication abilities. Drawing attention to their mispronunciations ("that's not how you say that word") can make them withdraw from communicating altogether, potentially turning a small quirk into something much more serious.

So, phew. I'm not supposed to point out his errors and get him to say it better. I simply need to be a great language role model, so that O-Dod knows what he's aiming for. (Given I went on to read 'Mole's Spectacles' three times that afternoon, I am pretty sure he heard at least 12 examples of how to pronounce it properly!)

The experts also advise I should avoid baby talk (so, no more 'mama wuvs woo'), engage in active listening i.e. listen and then respond to what he says ("You're making a snowman? That's a great idea.") and limit screen time. And guess what else comes highly recommended? Reading picture books out loud to your child. Even very young children will recognise rhythms, repeated words or phrases, and even anticipate and guess end of line rhymes in age appropriate PB's, all excellent training for good speech development. The positive impact of reading out loud to your child is almost immeasurable. (More on this in a future blog post.)

Frankly, parenthood is hard enough, and I'm glad the speech therapists are not telling me crack the whip and correct him at every turn. Any little oxytocin-generating parent-child moment should be seized and savoured, IMHO, to top up the tank for those genuinely challenging moments, of which there are many!

And it's definitely worth remembering, we are only supposed to understand around 50% of a 2 year-old's language and that every child will hit their milestones at different times, because every child is different. If your little one is experiencing communication challenges, this article has some great advice:

In the meantime, bring on the esspeggtables, fla-mangoes and pasgetti!


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