Speech Hierarchy: How SLPs Help You Articulate Sounds

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Have you ever wondered how Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) help clients articulate the sounds they struggle with? In this post, we’re breaking down the process that SLPs use for articulation-based therapy – check out the diagram below for an overview of what we’ll be talking about.

When learning any new skill, it’s important to have a foundation to build off of – you wouldn’t dive into a pool without learning to swim in the shallow end first! The same goes for speech therapy; someone looking to improve their articulation of a certain sound will start at the very top of the triangle, focused on isolating the sound, and work their way to the bottom. This is called “speech hierarchy”.


Let’s say the target sound we’re working on is /l/: the first step is training your brain to approach it differently. How someone pronounces a sound comes out of habit, so practice is key to change the memorized muscle motor patterns. The SLP will explain how to form this sound in the mouth - in the case of /l/, it involves putting the tongue up behind the teeth, blowing air and vibrating your vocal folds.


Knowing how to pronounce the isolated sound is great, but the next step is to blend that sound with a vowel. For /l/, a client would practice saying “la-la-la”, “lee-lee-lee”, “loo-loo-loo”, etc. It might sound funny, but these are the building blocks that help form the words we use every day. Again, SLPs will explain what each part of your mouth needs to do to articulate those syllables.

Word Initial