The /k/ sound is very similar to the /g/ sound because they both use the same mouth position. Both are stop consonants, which means the airflow while producing the sound is first stopped, and then released. /K/ is different because it is an unvoiced sound – the only sound you hear when making it is the sound the air makes when you release it. To make the /k/ sound, put the back of your tongue against the top of your mouth towards the back on what is called your soft palate. With your tongue in this position, draw air through your mouth and release it by lowering your tongue. This unvoiced release of air is the /k/ sound.
Many children begin using the /k/ sound by age 2 and have mastered it by 3 years of age. If your child seems behind in his ability to articulate the /k/ sound or replaces it with the /t/ sound by age 4, it is strongly advised that you consult with a certified speech-language pathologist to help get him back on track and to avoid affecting future articulation ability. The general rule of thumb is the earlier the better for helping kids correct articulation troubles.
Practicing at home with your child is a great way to reinforce the correct pronunciation of sounds and to track your child’s ability and progress. Here are some tried-and-true speech therapist tips to do with your little one:
- Verbal cues
When practicing specific sounds with your child, it is important to start by correctly articulating the individual sound. This helps your child understand where you are focusing and gives them an example to imitate. Start by repeating the sound clearly and slowly for your child: “/k/, /k/, /k/.”
After your child masters the single sound, try combining it with vowels to form simple syllables, such as “ka, ka, ka,” “kay, kay, kay” and “kee, kee, kee.”
- Physical Cues
Some kids have trouble getting their tongue to the right spot in the back of their mouth. To make this easier, lay down on your backs with your child. From this position, the tongue naturally falls closer to the back of the mouth (thanks, gravity!) Have your little one try to say the /k/ sound while lying like this. Once she gets the hang of it, have her try again standing up.
- Tactile Cues
Since the /k/ sound is an unvoiced stop, it produces a big puff of air from your mouth when pronounced correctly (definitely bigger than the similar /g/ sound makes.) Have your child hold his hand in front of your mouth as you make the /k/ sound to feel the air that you expel. Then encourage him to feel his own puff of breath as he creates the sound himself.
Another useful method to help kids master the /k/ sound is by using a tongue depressor to help guide the child’s tongue into the correct position. However, this should only be done by a certified children’s speech therapist. The technique has proven very effective and is used by many therapists. If your child needs further help, a licensed speech therapist will be able to use techniques like this and recommend additional solutions.