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The S sound: What it is and Why is it important

The S sound can be quite tricky to produce. Children sound so cute when they say “eth” or “et” for S when singing the alphabet song. But as they get a little older, we expect them to be able to say the words correctly and begin to understand the importance of producing the S sound correctly.

The S sound is important in speech because it helps with the clarity of speech. When producing the S sound correctly, it will help other sounds to be produced more clearly as well. If you are suspecting your child has difficulties producing S, this blog might be useful for you!


In this article we will discuss:


Speech therapist teaching the S sound.

The S sound is an unvoiced alveolar fricative consonant.


First, the S sound is unvoiced, which means that your vocal cords should not vibrate as you make the sound. The voiced counterpart of S is the Z sound. This requires the vocal cords to vibrate when you produce a sound.

Secondly, it is alveolar. This means that when you produce the sound, your tongue should be near the roof of your mouth, or the alveolar ridge, just behind your teeth. Your teeth should also be close together.

Lastly, it is what we call a fricative consonant because the airstream is partially obstructed as it flows through the narrow opening created by your tongue and teeth. That is why we call the S sound an unvoiced alveolar fricative consonant.


Help your children to produce the S sound

The S sound is an important sound for children to learn!

So why is it important to be able to produce the S sound correctly?


The S sound is present in a lot of common words, and so mispronouncing this sound can change the meaning of what you’re trying to say. For example, saying “thun” for sun or “thar” for star can completely change the word and the meaning. Additionally, if a child is unable to produce the S sound correctly, they may have difficulty with spelling words that contain the S sound. This is because they wouldn’t be able to hear the difference between words that contain an S versus a Z (e.g., hiss vs. buzz).

Finally, this sound is important because it is one of the sounds that are used to make up many words in English. The “S” sound can be found at the beginning, middle, or end of words. For example, some words that begin with this sound are sun, ship, and school. In addition, there are many words that have this sound in the middle, such as desk, wish, and grass. Finally, there are also quite a few words that end with this sound including bus, was, and yes. The S sound in speech therapy is one of the most commonly targeted!

If your child is having difficulty producing this sound, there are many things you can do to help!


Child trying to produce the S sound.

When should my child produce the S sound?

Most children will be able to produce the S sound by 3 years of age. Children master the this sound by the age of 4 or 5. If your child is not producing the S sound by age 5, it might affect their ability to produce other sounds as well. This is why it is important to seek help as early as possible to prevent any further difficulties.

What causes difficulty producing the S sound?

There are many reasons why a child may have difficulty producing the S sound. It could be due to anatomic abnormalities such as a cleft palate or tongue tie. It could also be due to neurological disorders such as cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. Or, it could simply be that the child has not been exposed to enough opportunities to practice producing it.

Children will learn to produce the S sound in these simple steps!

To learn new sounds, it is always best to seek the help of a speech-language pathologist to ensure your child is progressing through the stages correctly.


First step: Introduce the sound in isolation

The first thing your child should learn to do is to produce the sound without any other consonants. This can be done by having your child practice saying “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” and then moving on to “SSSSSSSSSSS.”


Second step: Produce the sound with a vowel

Your child will then move on to adding vowels to the S sound to make words. This can be done by having your child practice saying “SSSSS-A”, “SSSSS-I”, “SSSSS-U”, and so on.

Third step: Introduce different words with the sound.

The last thing your child should learn to do is to put it into words. This can be done by having your child practice saying words with S initial words such as “sun,” “sock,” and “ship.” Once they have mastered this, they can move on to words that have the S sound in the middle such as “desk” and “wish.” Finally, they can practice words that end with the S sound such as “bus” and “was.”


Fourth step: Produce the S sound with a consonant.

The next step after your child has mastered the S sound is to move on to S blends. S blends are when the S sound is combined with another consonant to make a new sound. For example, the most common S blend is the “sw” blend which makes the “sw” sound as in “switch.” Other common S blends include “sk,” “sm,” “sn,” and “sp.”

To introduce S blends, you can start with the “sw” blend. This can be done by having your child practice saying “SW-I-TCH” and then move on to other words that contain this blend such as “swing,” “sweet,” and “sword.” Once they have mastered this blend, you can move on to other S blends such as “sk,” “sm,” “sn,” and “sp.”

As always, if your child is having difficulty producing S blends, it is best to seek the help of a speech-language pathologist.


Teaching a child the S sound in front of the mirror.

You can help your child produce the S sound


Children may not understand why he needs to produce a specific sound accurately. Try to make it fun for your child by coming up with creative games and activities that help him practice it! If your child is having difficulty producing the S sound, there are many things you can do to help. Here are some ideas to make learning the S sound fun!

  • Encourage your child to slow down and take a breath before saying a word that begins with S. This will help them to have enough air to produce the sound correctly.

  • Help them place their tongue in the correct position by demonstrating where it should go. You can also have them feel the position of their tongue with their finger.

  • Have them practice saying words that begin with S in front of a mirror so they can see what their tongue is doing.

  • Practice words that contain the sound in different positions (e.g. S initial words, middle, and end of words).

  • Play games that involve producing the S sound (e.g., I Spy, Tongue Twisters).

With these tips, you can help your child to produce the S sound correctly! However, if your child still has difficulty producing the S sound, it is best to seek the help of a speech-language pathologist. If you have any concerns about your child’s speech, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!


When to seek professional help?

If your child is over the age of 3 and you’re noticing that they are still having difficulty producing the S sound correctly, it might be time to seek professional help. It is better to seek help than to wait and see if your child will outgrow the sound error.


Contact a speech therapist now! A speech-language pathologist (SLP) can assess your child’s speech and provide guidance on how to best support your child in improving their speech production. A speech therapist can help by:

  • Assessing your child’s speech production

  • Determining if there are any underlying issues that might be causing difficulty producing the specific sound

  • Providing guidance on how to best support your child in improving their speech production

  • Give activities to help your child practice producing the specific sound

At Better Speech, we offer online speech therapy services convenient for you and tailored to your child's individual needs. Our services are affordable and effective - get Better Speech now.

 

About the Author

Mikee Larrazabal


I am a Speech-Language Pathologist with 14 years of experience working with children and adults who have communication difficulties. I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science at Cebu Doctors' University and have been helping people overcome their communication challenges ever since.


I have worked with individuals of different ages, including toddlers, preschoolers, school-aged children, adults and seniors. I'm passionate about speech therapy and take great satisfaction in helping people overcome their communication challenges and improve their lives through better communication skills. In my spare time I like reading books, going hiking in nature and taking care of my dog Locas.

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