Do you have any good ideas for teaching tongue placement for the /k/ and /g/ phonemes?
When teaching production of new sounds, I prefer to avoid directly teaching the placement. This is particularly true for sound such as /k/ and /g/ that are made with the back portion of the tongue and with movements that are not very visible. The first thing I would do is explore stimulability and possible contextual variation thoroughly. Although a child might make errors on /k/ and /g/ a high percentage of the time, sometimes there are a few words where the sound is already correct. For /k/ and /g/ I would explore the possibility that /k/ and /g/ are produced correctly when they occur with other back sounds, the "ng" and high back vowels in particular. Some words with "ng" are bank, bunk, pink, dunk, donkey, link, sink, tank, bongo, bingo, mango, finger, tango, lingo, and longer. Examples of words with high and mid back vowels are coat, comb, cone, cook, cookie, cool, could, ghost, goal, goat, good, and goose. Also, I would include some words with /k/ and /g/ in final position, such as book, buck, Duke, hook, look, make, oak, soak, took, pig, big, dig, peg, leg, bag, bug, and dug. Children sometimes produce back sounds such as /k/ and /g/ more readily in word final position than initial position. If I find one or more words with correct /k/ or /g/, then the child will be able to feel the correct placement as he or she says the word.
If a child does not produce /k/ or /g/ correctly in any words, then we do have to provide information about place of production. The first thing I would want to know is whether or not the child produces "ng" correctly. If yes, then I can use "ng" to teach the approximate place of production for /k/ and /g/. All three sounds are classified as velar consonants. Their production involves raising the back or dorsum of the tongue to make contact with the roof of the mouth about at the boundary of the hard and soft palate. Ask the child to start by producing "ng" and then to "stop" the air flow. This occurs by moving the soft palate to block off the nasal cavity. Once air pressure builds in the oral cavity, the child can either use a "breathy" release for /k/ or a "noisy" release for /g/. Voicing on /g/ might be easier if you use a brief "uh" vowel on the release. If children struggle with raising the soft palate during the "ng" production, you might ask them to block their nostrils with their fingers. This allows them to feel the build up of air pressure.
If none of the above strategies work, Bleile (1994; 2004) and Secord (1981) provide some additional ideas. For example, Secord suggests having the child anchor his or her tongue tip against the lower teeth or even using a tongue depressor to hold the tongue tip down. Another suggestion from Secord involves using a minty flavor to increase the child's awareness of the place of production. Secord suggested using a Q-tip flavored with mint and applying the flavor to the roof of the mouth where /k/ and /g/ are produced. Other means of applying the flavor, such as a flavored tongue blade, could work as well. Bleile (1994) suggested having the child feel the underside of your mouth as you repeat the sounds. Other suggestions include having the child lean his head back while attempting to say /k/ or /g/ or having the child pretend to cough. If the child uses t/k or d/g substitutions, a final suggestion is to use the metaphor of a rocking chair. The alveolar consonants, /t/ and /d/, are made as the front of the rockers raise, and the velar consonants, /k/ and /g/, are made as the back of the rockers raise. In teaching new sounds, clinicians need to tolerate some trial-and-error because no single strategy works best for all clients.
Bleile, K. M. (1995). Manual of articulation and phonological disorders: Infancy through adulthood (1st ed.). San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group.
Bleile, K. M. (2004). Manual of articulation and phonological disorders: Infancy through adulthood (2nd ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning.
Secord, W. (1981) Eliciting sounds: Techniques for clinicians. San Antonio, TX: The Psychological Corporation.
Dr. Lauren K. Nelson began her career as a speech-language pathologist in 1978. She has been on the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa since 1990. Dr. Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.