So the S Sound stinks.  Let’s just admit it.  Whose idea was it to take one of the most difficult sounds to produce and add high linguistic value to it.

s soundSorry Charlie, if you can’t add the S Sound to a word, you are only going to get one piece of candy for the rest of your life!

And for those of you that don’t know, bilingualism makes it even more challenging.

The S Sound is used in Latin languages like Spanish to denote tense and to identify formality such as talking to an adult or a friend.

Oh yeah, and those Asian languages, you know, the ones that only half the world’s population speaks? They don’t like final consonants or blends too much.  So even if they have /s/, it may not be used well in blends or final consonant positions.

So here we are forced to decide whether bilingual children should qualify on one of OUR hardest sounds that THEIR language doesn’t have or use in the same way.

s sound


Take a walk with me as an SLP and I debate this topic through email.

Hi Scott,

I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the identification process for ELL students who are new English learners…but at what point do we start to say “you’ve had enough time to learn English speech sounds through your ELA classes and you haven’t gotten them–time for intervention”? I know it’s different with language (BICS and CALP)–but what about speech sounds? Let’s take /s/ for example:

For my most recent ELL student (who qualified for speech services–home language is Spanish) I used your 4-page packet (first page is titled “Speech and Language Concerns“) and had the teacher fill it out. It gave me lots of good information–

“pcup” instead of cup

“mbunny” and “mbaby” instead of bunny and baby

“fun” instead of thumb

“soy” instead of toys

“sow” instead of stove

And in Spanish:

“paya-o” instead of payaso

“beo” instead of beso

“que-o” instead of queso

“luce” instead of luces

“guante” instead of guantes

“dormio” instead of dormido

“payaso” instead of payasos

“mema” instead of misma

“rota” instead of rosa

For language, the teacher noted no plurals or third person–this could be due to the fact that she has problems with both /s/ and final consonants. No other language concerns.


So, first of all, I love how you have words from both languages.  This ultimately paints the best picture.  We see that:

An /s/ does exist in certain instances (luce, payaso)

That it is absent in rule-driven instances (FCD, cluster reduction)

So it looks to me like you have a phonology kid on your hands 

What about s-blends–now that he can produce s, should we be targeting s-blends even though they don’t exist in Spanish?

S blends do exist in Spanish across syllables as “abutted consonants.”   paSTa, eSTa.  You are right, they are not true blends, but teachers don’t classify “blends” into two groups like we do.  In English, Spanish-speakers typically add add a vowel to initial s sound clusters – espaguetti, eschool.  So if they are reducing the two consonants together (but not in initial position), you still have stuff to work on. 

I inherited a first grade student who had IEP goals for s, sh, and ch. He is now able to produce all of those sounds but continues to interchange sh and ch. Do I need to target differentiation between sh and ch or leave it alone because it is Spanish-language influence?

SH shouldn’t be a goal in the first place for a Spanish-speaker because there is no SH in Spanish.  If he is above 90% intelligible he may not qualify if he is just switching out sounds.  First, can he/she write it correctly when he hears you say words?  Do a fake spelling test – shed, ship, chip, etc., you know if he hears the difference.  Then, purposefully use the wrong sound and laugh at yourself.  See if she picks up on the difference.  If that is the only sound, you can call it “in the process of developing” and can’t justify pulling her out of class. 

One additional question–if a student CAN’T “hear” the difference between sh and ch (in your spelling example), then do I target auditory discrimination?

s soundYes, stop consonant vs. fricative.  Try the cha cha with their bodies or stuffed animals dancing.    “One two, cha, cha, cha, 3, 4, …

Overall, intelligibility is still king.  How intelligible are they?  Some kids never adopt the English sounds. “THE” is always “DA” for example.  However, the sounds that exist in both languages should be targeted.  I have a lot of kids working on R, S, L, CH, F goals.  As they get older, therapy shifts into English but we are still working on the same sounds.  If a mechanical deficit exists (artic), the errors will exist in all languages. 

Anyway, as always, thanks for all of the information you have available. I shared a good chunk of it at our monthly SLP meeting last month–I did a PowerPoint presentation on identifying speech/language disorders in our ELL population (and it sometimes sounded like a commercial for Bilinguistics!). I specifically looked at Spanish (lots of available information), Somali, and Karen(ni) which are the two other languages of students I have treated this year.

Thank you!

Really nice work on this. You are truly a CLD Rockstar. 

Best Regards,



How to pronounce the ‘s sound’ /s/

WordPress Lightbox