Teaching K and G

By Pam Marshalla

Cochlear Implant in Teen Girl w/FlowersQ: My 10-year-old student with a profound hearing loss and a recent cochlear implant cannot produce any back sounds. We have tried all of the elicitation techniques (tongue depressors, lying on back, gargling) which usually result in her using a glottal plosive instead. Do you have any other suggestions?

I am not sure what you mean by “all of the elicitation techniques.” You mention using a tongue depressor, but you do not say HOW you used it.  It’s all about the HOW.

This is what I would do––

  1. Use a probe (a tongue depressor will work) to press gently downward on the back of the tongue.
  2. Ask her to push the probe upward with the back of her tongue. She needs to push up high enough to press the probe up against the palate.
  3. Practice this move until she can do it easily and confidently.
  4. Then remove the tongue depressor and ask her to do it again.
  5. Then ask her to do it (without the probe) and to hold the back of her tongue up there.
  6. As she holds it up there, have her exhale. The resultant sound should be a voiceless velar fricative.
  7. Have her practice this movement and this sound until she can do it easily and consistently.
  8. Allow her to use this fricative for K.
  9. Move on to CV and VC syllables with this velar fricative.
  10. Bring the probe back in when she falters.
  11. Move on to words in initial and/or final position still using the velar fricative.
  12. Allow her to use the velar fricative until she has enough experience to begin to make it better.
  13. Help her to make it better by pressing up more firmly so it turns into a true plosive.
  14. If she cannot do the plosive, allow her to continue using the fricative.
  15. Make the fricative more gently and shorter. The shorter it becomes, and the gentler the movement, the more it should sound like K.
  16. Stick with K for a while, but eventually add voice back in to make it G.

FYI I had one client who had to produce K as a velar fricative for 18 months before we could shape it into K. So be patient! Do not try to get a perfect /k/ until she is ready.  The velar fricative is the pre-speech foundation of the back sounds.

8 thoughts on “Teaching K and G”

  1. Hello.
    This post is very useful, but I still have one question.
    What can I do, if the child reject a probe? Does maybe exist some technique for teaching /k/ and /g/ without using a probe?

  2. If the client is rejecting a probe this usually means you simply are introducing it too quickly or you are hesitant about it. Turns the tables on him by giving him the tool and let him explore with it.. For example, use a mirror and let him watch himself count his teeth with it before you try to do something specific with it.

  3. If the client gags, as he may will, you have to teach him to suppress his gag. Let him hold the tool himself and tell him, “Don’t choke.” We all have the ability to suppress a gag, for example, we all do this at the dentist. If the client simply can’t hold it back, you will have to discontinue the method for a short while while you venture into safer more friendly tool-in-mouth activities to teach him to normalize his sensitivity.

  4. Hi,

    My daughter is 4 years old. She pronounces ‘DIG’ as ‘DID’ and ‘CAR’ as ‘TAR’. Please suggest what other technique can we use instead of tongue depressor?

    Thanks in advance.

  5. What if the child has a /k/ and /g/ in middle and final position but not in initial position. The child is able to add a vowel before an initial /k/ word but has a hard time separating the two syllables (ah-car).

  6. I almost always use a method whereby I shape /k/ and /g/ from /ng/. I call it the open-mouth hum. I first ask the child if he knows how to hum, most kids do. We might make a pretend birthday cake and hum Happy Birthday. Then I give the surprising news that there is another way to hum, and demonstrate humming on /n/. I ask the child to copy, and we play with it a while, hum Happy Birthday on /n/, etc. I ask what part of the mouth is working to make /n/, and together we name this hum. Usually we call it the Tongue Hum.

    After playing with these two hums back and forth for a while, I introduce the astounding news that there is a third way to hum, and demonstrate humming on /ng/. The child copies, often with some coaching. A mirror is fun here. We play with that, and eventually identify that the back of the tongue is working for this one. I call this the Open Mouth Hum. We then commence to play with all three hums, until we can move back and forth among them easily.

    I then use this Open Mouth Hum as a starting point for playing with /ng/ in different ways. Loud, soft, whispered! Eventually we try repeating, popping or tapping this hum, to get an approximation of /g/ or /k/. From there we put the sound into nonsense syllables or animal sounds like a Papa Crow (loud Kaw!), Mama Crow (Gaw!), baby crow (soft kaw/gaw!), and other sounds. Some kids need to retain /ng/ for a while in front of the velar stop, e.g. /ng-ga/ or /ng-ka/. Whenever we lose the velar, we can always go back to the Open Mouth Hum to find the right place. I practice at this nonsense level until the child can find that velar sound at will, hear it, correct it.

    Once we have a good velar, we can start using it to say some (error) words in a new way.

  7. Hi! I have a client who can produce k/g in isolation but at the syllable level, cannot produce them consistently. When he looks at me and I give an open mouth cue and model, he can produce the sound. Not sure how to proceed from here. Any recommendations?

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