Phonological Process Series: What is Vowelization?

[In this series, we explore the major phonological processes that children use in speech, as well as strategies for targeting them at home]

What are Phonological Processes? 

A phonological process is a pattern that young children adapt to simplify adult speech sounds. All children use these processes at some point in time while their speech and language skills are still developing because they don’t have to ability to coordinate the articulators -- lips, tongue, teeth, etc. -- for clear, “adult-like” speech. Due to this developmental process, children will simplify words in predictable ways until they develop the skills required to produce them clearly. A familiar example of this might be a 2-year-old child saying “wa-wa” for “water” or “nana” for “banana”. 


Today, we explore the process known as vowelization. This substitutive process involves articulating vowel sounds instead of the liquid class of sounds, including "R" and "L." If you've ever heard a child say "bay-uh" for "bear" or "app-oh" for "apple," you may have heard an example of vowelization in casual conversation.

As with many other phonological processes, vowelization can be considered typical until a certain age. Vowelization typically resolves by the age of 6; however, it may be considered a phonological process disorder after this age.

In therapy, it's typical to target this many phonological processes using a "minimal pairs" approach. In this strategy, children repeat two words that differ by only one sound, typically the target sound and the corresponding processed sound. By repeating sets of minimal pairs words, children quickly learn to verbally and auditorily differentiate the two different sounds in question. In this case, focusing on final "L" and "R" minimal pairs may be an effective starting point, such as "BOW" and "BOWL."

Because there may be fewer minimal pairs associated with this specific process, auditory discrimination, or the ability to accurately distinguish sounds, can also be a useful skill to practice with minimal pairs. Asking children to determine if the sounds in the first or second word included an L or vowel sound is a way to coach careful listening that can lead to correct production.

Have more questions about vowelization or other phonological processes? Reach out to a Sidekick therapist or one of our offices today.

Paul Rice, M.S., CCC-SLP


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