The Three Parts to the Clarity of Speech

How is speech developed?

There’s a clear progression of the development of speech in all children within their native language.

Progression of speech

Children learn to say the tones and sounds of their native language first. Those sounds eventually become words and sentences. Then its the appropriate volume of the toddler and later the development of their enunciation throughout the following years.

REMEMBER: there is a progression from tones and sounds, to words and sentences and eventually enunciation.

Speech versus Language


  • Speech is the verb. The act of speaking.
  • Language is syntax, writing, grammar -such as conjugating words, vocabulary, listening, speaking, and reading.

In this article, we will focus directly on speech

REMEMBER: The goal of this article is to provide a holistic view of what speech is so you may better help your student have clearer speech with faster results.


Three Parts to the Clarity of Speech

All children, whether they are English language learners or not develop their speech in the above 4 categories. While the children are developing their language, their speech becomes more and more clear for better communication.

The remainder of the article will be focused on these three components to speech.


3 parts to the clarity of speech



3 parts of the clarity of speech

How to implement each of these quickly when listening to the speech of your students



The clarity in which the word is said. This incorporates the articulation of the words. How the words are actually formed within our mouth, jaw, teeth, volume, throat, etc. The opposite of enunciation is mumbling and slurred words.

Watch this video. We can often understand words without ever moving our mouths. This is obviously not clear articulation and enunciation.

Here is what it may look like in the classroom:

Me: This is a mouth (shows a picture) Your turn.

Student: Thisa mou

Me: This is a mouth. th.

Student: Thisa mouth.

What do I notice for ENUNCIATION:

  1. The student blended more than one word together
  2. The student did not say the word is
  3. The student did not say the th sound at the end of the sentence the first time but did the second time.

Thoughts I have:

  • The student MAY have difficulty understanding how to move their tongue back and forth while their teeth are closed. Perhaps they are unaware as it is a sound you cannot see. Once shown it is easier for them.
  • If they are English as a second language student, they may be still learning the usage of the article is.
  • The student correctly said the th sound at the beginning of the sentence (this), but did not at the end of the sentence for the word mouth. They also were able to replicate the second time, but still blended the words mid-sentence. This leads me to believe they don’t have trouble with the th sound, but perhaps completing words.
    • Thisa – did not complete this before saying is, which sounds like one word when spoken in a sentence
    • mou- (did not say the full word mouth)

My next step: Become aware whether or not this is a pattern to not complete words of various endings. If that is the case, focus on individual clear words.

REMEMBER: Enunciation is related to how smooth and crisp it sounds. 


The way individual words are said. Accents. The sounds that make up individual words.

  • Pronunciation in English may vary according to where you live. Depending if you are from the south, east coast or west coast of the USA.
    • For example:
      • coyote(keye ote versus keye oh tee),
      • Creek (creeeek versus crick)
      • Been (bin versus beeen)
      • Roof (rooof versus ruf)
  • Pronunciation is accent as well. For example, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the USA all pronounce words differently.
  • Individual phonemes (sounds) of the language. This is different than enunciation. This is how the actual sounds are made. For example, many students say the sound w as v. These are two different phonemes. This would be incorrect pronunciation.

Many times we see pronunciation challenges in reading. A student will read a word incorrectly. Another is by making the l, w, th, z sounds incorrect.

Here is a great article written by specifically about what pronunciation is.

Here is what it may look like in the classroom:

Me: This is a mouth (shows a picture) Your turn.

Student: This is a mouw

Me: Th. Th. This is a mouth. Your turn.

Student: This is a moul

Me: Nice try! Look at my mouth (I circle my mouth and move closer) th. th.

Student: n, n, n

What do I notice for PRONUNCIATION:

  1. There were continual challenges with the sound th
  2. The student first understood the PLACEMENT of the tongue for the sound th. When they were corrected they moved their tongue. So they are well aware that moving the tongue can change a sound
  3. The student recognizes the sound of the th when I make it and is trying to replicate only that part of the sound. This means they are able to separate the various parts of that particular word.

Thoughts that I have:

Depending on the students’ native language, the th sound may be a sound some students cannot hear. This student was able to hear it, as they were changing that particular part of the sound and trying to match where within the word m-ou-th to change (th).

My next step: spend time explaining to the student how to make the th sound

1. I could write the explanation in google translate and then show (or copy/paste online) it in their native language

2. Using totaly physical response (gestures) I could clench my hands together hard showing to hold their tongue harder then when they say they l sound)

3. If they have limited speech say: tongue (show your tongue in the right placement), hard (clench hands) no voice (point to their throat and show no). Just breathe. thhhhhhhh.

REMEMBER: pronunciation is the way individual sounds are made, as well as accent

Nuanced speech

The way we complete the word

The smoothness of the word being spoken. How we transition from one word to the next word. The nuanced sounds as we speak sentences.

Here is what it may look like in the classroom:

Student: This iz a mouth. It tuh move ez quick uh ly when we uh speak.

Me: This iz a mouth. It movez quick ly when we speak.

Student: Thisiz a mouth. It tuh mov ez quick kuh ly when we uh speak.

What do I notice for Nuanced speech:

  1. The student struggles with where to have connecting words
  2. The student struggles with knowing where syllables are in more than one syllabic word
  3. The student often adds in an uh sound in between words. As the students’ language is Chinese, it is difficult for this student to end a sound not with a vowel.

My next step:

Type in the chat box or write down what the student is saying phonetically. Repeat back to the student what they say while they read along. Then re-type or write the correct phonetic way.  Throughout the lesson, write the u sound at the end of words and cross out when necessary. 

After they begin to see this pattern, do the same thing while writing spaces between the word. quick ly versus quickly. This way they can hear and see what they are saying out loud. 

REMEMBER: nuanced speech is related to how to connect words, the breathing between words and add in sounds non-native speakers add in

Putting it all together

Overall knowing the definition of the words nuanced speech, enunciation and pronunciation is not helpful. But knowing there is more than just pronunciation in how you say the words is very helpful to the student, and to the parents helping their children with homework.

Case story:

My experience with my student:

One of my students had a very difficult time speaking English. Claire knew all of her vocabulary words, could read on level 4 (as that was her English speaking level as well) and had great grammar. What she struggled with were reading new words, and speaking in sentences that were clear for me to understand.

Despite all of her grammar and vocabulary, she could barely say a sentence that was easy to understand. She also appeared to not be able to break apart words, despite passing all of her assessments when it came to showing the syllables.

What was happening:

After a time of working with her, I recognized a consistent pattern. She often added the sound uh to the end of her words. She also really struggled with adverb suffixes (ly), often adding in an extra breathe.

I realized what was happening. She did not struggle with the pronunciation of words. She essentially was challenged with enunciation and nuanced speech.

What I did:

  • I noticed she had two challenges
  1. Cluttering the words together which essentially made her mumble (enunciation). Not knowing how to move from saying the base word to conjugating or adding on adverbs or adverb suffixes**Why I did not see this as a pronunciation challenge: Because all of the base words were pronounced correctly. She also could say the sounds of the adverbs or adverb suffixes as well. What she couldn’t do was put them together. That is a nuanced speech challenge.She could say the individual sounds correctly but would clutter the words, making them into one word. This is an enunciation challenge (mumbling).
  2.  She did not know when to put a pause in the sentence between words and added in the sound uh in the “dead” spots between words.
  • I addressed the “uh” first. (sounds) Showing her that she added in sounds. It is easier to omit extra sounds than it is to change a pattern of speech. I wanted her to feel successful as often as possible.
  • By omitting the sound it changed the “dead” spots (the brief pauses between words). This made it easier to address her cluttering (enunciation). I focused on making sure every word was said individually. The nuance of how we sometimes blend words (for example Whatiz their name?) I would address later. I wanted crisp words so I could keep her speech as clear as possible.
  • Then, because we looked at words as a whole,  I was able to show Claire where not to breathe (for example quickly instead of quick ly). (Nuance speech)
  • Lastly, I addressed reading by syllables. As she was no longer taking breaths in the wrong place and adding in sounds, she had an easier time hearing the words as she sounded them out.

REMEMBER: When you have a student with multiple challenges, follow the natural Order of operations.

The natural progression of language is: 

(black = language development)    (orange = clarity of speech)

  • Sounds (individual phonemes) and tones
  • Basic words
  • Pronunciation
  • Phrases and sentences
  • Appropriate volume for words including when reading
  • Enunciation
  • Conversational speech (paragraphs each)
  • Nuance Speech


Comments are closed.