Lisps, 'Martian' language and more!

Providing comprehensive assessments and therapy to all communication disorders for children and adults

What Is Articulation?

Articulation refers to the production of the individual sounds we use to make words. These sounds develop right from birth and sometimes don't finish developing until we reach the age of 8 years.  We learn these sounds at different stages with the more difficult sounds, 'r' for example, developing last. These sounds develop in a particular order (see picture below).

It can be very difficult for us to understand a child when they are having difficulties with some sounds. Some common terms we use for this  includes 'Martian', lisps and slurs. 



Your Speech Pathologist will assess your child's articulation abilities by asking them to identify a series of pictures. These pictures will assess how your child produces each phoneme at the beginning, middle and end of words. This will be analysed alongside the Speech Development Chart to determine which phonemes your child should be able to produce at their age.

Once your Speech Pathologist has determined which speech sound difficulties are not age appropriate, they will begin Stimulability Testing. This part of the assessment analyses your child's ability to produce the difficult sounds in terms of the level of support required. This will enable your Speech Pathologist to develop an individualised therapy for your child that is suited to their learning abilities.

Holder of NSW Working With Children's Check


The traditional approach is the most common approach that is used by many Speech Pathologist. Sounds are selected according to which sounds your child should be able to say by their age - i.e. those that are not age appropriate. The ladder for speech sound acquisition is heavily relied upon during this method to teach each individual sound to your child.

This method is often used in conjunction with many other methods, for example minimal pair therapy (discussed in the following section).


A Phonological Approach to therapy may be chosen when your child is substituting a group of sounds with one sound. An example of this is when your child is unable to produce plosives at the back of their mouth (e.g. 'k' and 'g'). These sounds may be produced with a 't' or a 'd' instead.


Minimal Pair therapy is often used when children are experiencing difficulty with learning the new sound. This sound is often produced as a similar sound (e.g. 'k' is swapped with 'g'). The sounds are mirrored beside other so your child begins to feel and hear the difference between how these sounds are produced. This is completed by using word pairs that have minimal differences - they differ by one phoneme. An example of this is 'cold' and 'gold'.

Maximal Pair Therapy is very similar to Minimal Pair therapy as words selected differ by one phoneme. These phonemes, however, differ as maximally as they can. The must differ in place, manner and voicing. An example of this is 'mall and 'call'.


There are many different ways a Speech Pathologist may choose to help your child learn to say the chosen sounds. No matter what therapy option they choose, the same format will usually be chosen. This format can be thought of as a 'ladder'. This ladder is pictured to the left (Beth's Speech Spot, 2014).

Therapy begins by asking your child to elicit the chosen sound in isolation (the sound by itself - e.g. 'k'). As your child learns to say this sound by itself the difficulty is increased into syllables (e.g. 'koo'), words (e.g. 'car'), phrases (e.g. 'red car'), sentences (e.g. 'I see a car') and eventually leading to even longer stories and sentences. This process finishes by correcting your child during conversations.

Some methods for how sounds may be selected and targeted follow.

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