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Positive experience

Children learn better by the sensation of success than the sensation of failure. By focusing on success rather than failure, it is possible to proceed from one positive experience to another. This lowers the visibility of the intervention, and mirrors the natural process of learning to speak.

The only difference between this and normal experience is that there is a sharper focus on particular points of need.

This tries to make the actual goal as far as possible invisible. Some small children are well aware that they need help. But to my way of thinking there no advantage in making this more evident than it already is. So unless a child actually asks for explicit feedback I prefer to congratulate them for whatever they say. If the child doesn’t say things quite right the task should have been adjusted to make success more easily achievable. Success is more motivating than failure.

Whichever language a child is learning, he or she has to work out what sort of a language it is, what it allows and doesn’t allow, and so on. And the evidence of actual speech can be quite confusing. But there are three vital things to work out: the relations between the inventory of speech sounds and the features; the phonotactics; and the ‘metricality’ or ‘prosody’.

Most of the keys to the natural learning process are in children’s brains. By the natural process, the child has to mentally go over what he or she has heard, and turn this into speech and language.

Short cuts can be misleading – like pronouncing the primary stressed syllable, and either ignoring the rest or reducing it to a small gestures, saying potato as (X) TAY (X), where the Xs represent some soert of minimal gestures. Or from the example of words like dinner and table assuming that no word consists of more than a simple foot. By a better approach, what is known as the scansion starts correctly from the right, but then incorrectly stops as soon as the stressed vowel is pronounced. So everything before the stressed vowel goes unpronounced. And from the example of names like Arsenal, assuming that no word can be greater than this maximal stress domain, and saying monopoly as OPOLY.

The critical factor here is the child’s sense of what is a possible word. This sense is obviously both subtle and unconscious. It normally develops by small steps over seven, eight or nine years. The steps can happen overnight, although sometimes more rapidly in the context of what I describe here as Possible words therapy.