Have you ever gotten a student who nasalized a phoneme or two? When I’ve seen it with my Spanish-speaking students, improper nasalization has normally occurred on the /s/ sound. When you have a student who nasalizing, the best practice is to refer the student to an ENT. You need to make sure that there isn’t a medical concern.
When an ENT has ruled out velopharyngeal insufficiency or other problems, I approach therapy as a placement error. I think of it as the student is not putting the articulators in the right place to make the sound. To treat nasalization as a placement error, here are the ways I’ve been successful:
Teach the Correct Nasal Phonemes
In English, the phonemes are /m/ /n/ and “ng.” In Spanish they have all of the above, plus an alveolar-palatal (spelled “ñ” in Spanish and phonetically you are adding /j/). I just was reading up on it! Practice words with these sounds so the student becomes aware of what he/she is doing to produce the nasal quality.
Demonstrate Nasal Vibration
Put your hand on your nose and have the student put his/her hand on the nose. We want to client to feel the difference between a nasalized phoneme and another phoneme. I would chose a voiceless phoneme like /t/ or /f/. Why? The contrast is great when compared to a voiced phoneme. That’s because he/she might get confused about the vocal vibration happening.
Plug Your Nose
Close off the air from their nostrils and then producing a word with the erroneous nasalized phoneme in it. Then the student will feel the air getting forced back into the back of the mouth. It’s an uncomfortable feeling!
The Best Cue
Next up is the cue I use with these students. After completing steps 1 through 3, tell the student, “Air through the mouth.” Say that after they nasalize a phoneme. Then having the student repeat the word again, they can do it correctly. This is not always the case, but it has worked for me.
When working with articulation, drill is the best way to work through a sound error. Make it fun and keep those productions up. If you can involve parents, either by talking to them over the phone or sending home simple homework, that’s the best way to make sure carryover occurs.
Keep in mind that involving an ENT is the best course of action, but sometimes it’s just not possible. I’ve worked with three early elementary-age students like this (in 11 years) and all three were able to learn how to correctly produce the /s/ sound without nasalizing it. It took at least a year for these students — just so you know how long to expect.
I’d love to hear how you’ve been able to have success treating nasalized phonemes! Feel free to comment below!