Phonological Processes: What is Assimilation?

[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 will explore assimilation. This phonological process is characterized by a sound taking on characteristics of another sound. There are many kinds of assimilation that we will discuss in future posts. Assimilation at the word level is noted by consonant sounds starting to sound like another sound in the same word. A child may use assimilation if you hear them say "bub" for "bus" in conversation. This process is developmentally appropriate until a certain age range. After age 3, this process is considered a phonological disorder.

During speech therapy, it is common to use a "minimal pairs" approach to target assimilation. In this strategy, children repeat two words that differ by only one sound, typically the target sound and the corresponding processed sound. In this case, the word list may include a variety of real and nonsense words, including "gog" and "dog."

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

Elizabeth Ward, M.S., CF-SLP


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