Stimulating Voiceless Consonants

By Pam Marshalla

Q: I have a client with prevocalic voicing. He substitutes b/p, d/t, and g/k in initial position. Do you see this much? What suggestions do you have?

Prevocalic voicing is probably one of the most common phonological error patterns in young children, especially those with motor speech disorders. There are many ways to address this:

1. We can use minimal pairs to help the client hear the differences between the phonemes and to emphasize the way the meaning changes with the phoneme change. Use word pairs like: poor-bore, pit-bit, tip-dip, two-do, coo-goo, come-gum, etc.

2. We can teach the client about their “motor” (the voice), and I have them learn to turn their motor “on” and “off.” Do sequential “motor-on” and “motor-off” exercises like this:




Teach the client to keep the airflow going. Say, “Don’t stop the air!” as he transitions from voice-on to voice-off. Have the client feel his neck at the larynx to feel the vibration of voice on vs the lack of vibration for voice off. He is learning to turn voice on and off in sequence while keeping the airflow going. The client has to learn to hear this as he is doing it, so encourage him to listen to himself and to you.

3. Another way to help clients use initial voiceless phonemes is to teach them to insert an /h/ between the C and the V. For example, have him pronounce “Pam” as “P-H-am.” The H allows the client a continuous flow of air from the P to the vowel. It gives him move time to turn his voice on during the transition from the consonant to the vowel.

4. Another way to stimulate for voiceless phonemes is to abandon your work on initial position and concentrate on the final position. I always do this and have had much success, so much so that I usually teach the following words as first words:

Final Consonant Target Word
P Up
T Eat
K Ick
Th Bath
F Off
S Kiss
Sh Hush
Ch Ouch

5. Another way to facilitate voiceless consonants is to start with the S-clusters. I always start with final Ts cluster as a plural morpheme. Starting with final S-clusters brings in the voiceless element before the client can handle initial voiceless consonants. The final S can be stimulated in the following morpheme forms:

Morpheme Example
Plural Hats, cups, bikes
Possessive The cat’s paw. The bike’s tire.
3rd Person Regular Tense Verb Marker He eats pudding.
He walks quickly.
Contracted copula to be It’s red. What’s that?
Auxiliary to be It’s raining.
What’s happening? 

11 thoughts on “Stimulating Voiceless Consonants”

  1. I have a client who has trouble with initial voiceless consonants(can do them in final position), and is inserting the /h/ before the vowel. Any thoughts about how to now get rid of it? Sometimes he drops the initial altogether, and just says “hants” for pants.

  2. I have the same question as Jennifer. My client can produce the voiceless consonants in final positions very consistently but cannot produce them in isolation or in initial positions of words. My client will also replace the initial consonant with an /h/. I’ve tried coarticulation strategies without success. Do you have any ideas of where to start next?

    1. Teach all the voiceless fricatives and affricates at once in final position and initial position.
      Your client has to hear the voicelessness and frication, and he has to experiment widely with them.
      Don’t try to get the right phoneme in the right word. Just go for the voicelessness and frication.
      Therefore, if the word in “soap” and he says “foap” reward him for producing voicelessness and frication.

      Kids mix these things up for a long time before they organize it.


  3. I have a kid who has gotten the voiceless fricatives, but continues to have difficulty with voiceless initial stops. We’ve been trying inserting the H without success so far. Any suggestions?

  4. Hi. I have a client with ataxic CP who I’ve been working with over 2.5-3 years. She continues to have difficulty with FCD however, when targeting /k/ final position it is almost always voiced as /g/. She can produce /k/ in initial and medial position with no errors. I’ve tried auditory and visual prompts, but I find targeting both FCD and post-vocalic voicing to be a challenge. We’ve also been targeting /k/ in isolation and /k/ in CV structures for the longest time. Do you have any suggestions? (I don’t like minimal pairs as her success is very low with this approach). Thank you!!

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