The /h/ sound is one of the easier sounds to articulate. It does not involve any special arrangement of the lips or tongue or complicated movements. In order to produce the sound, simply open your mouth and breathe. The sound is unvoiced, which means that what you hear comes from the movement of the air through your throat and mouth.
Since the sound is so simple to produce, babies develop the ability to articulate this sound very early. Children should have a firm grasp on the /h/ sound by age 2 or 3 years. If you notice that your little one has difficulty with the sound or is unable to pronounce it at all past the age of 3 years, it is strongly recommended that you seek the intervention of a professional speech therapist to help correct the delay and to prevent such a foundational sound from becoming a future barrier to speech development.
Speech-language pathologists have several techniques for stimulating your child’s ability to pronounce the /h/ sound at home with your child. These techniques can also equip you to assess your child’s continued progress or spot potential warning signs for delays. Here are a few of the best tips:
- Verbal cues
Clearly pronounce the sound several times for your child. It is important for the child to be able to hear the sound pronounced correctly so that he may imitate it and match his sound to yours.
Repeating the sound in sets of 3, “/h h h/”, while pausing in between sets will encourage you child to imitate you. After your child can consistently produce the sound, begin to add vowels to your sets: “ha ha ha”, “ho ho ho”, “he he he”.
- Visual Cues
Show you child the way your chest moves when you make the /h/ sound. Exaggerate your sound and your breath so that your belly moves when you breathe. This will help show your little one that he should be using and pushing his breath to make the sound, not his voice or just opening his mouth.
- Tactile Cues
When the /h/ sound is pronounced correctly, a small puff of air is released from the mouth. Hold your child’s hand in front of your mouth so she can feel this as you make the sound. Then let her feel the air from her own mouth as she makes the sound. For even more fun, practice the sound in front of a mirror. Get really close to the glass, allowing your breath to fog up the mirror. Kids love seeing the phenomenon of their breath on the glass, and they have to make a perfect /h/ sound to make this happen.
Turn practicing the /h/ sound into a fun activity for you and your baby by making it a laugh riot! Create funny and distinctive laughs for several different /h/+vowel combinations and encourage your baby to mimic the laughs. Try a high-pitched “hee hee hee!” or a low and ominous “Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha”. You will both end up in stitches and you won’t want to stop practicing that great /h/!