Ultrasound of tongue position and movements to analyse speech and provide real-time visual feedback in the speech therapy clinic. 

A team of speech scientists and speech and language therapists have analysed the articulation of speech and applied their findings to improve the speech communication of children with persistent speech disorders. The research team have pioneered the use of ultrasound technology to view in real time the movements of the tongue inside the mouth during speech. This has allowed children to see where their tongue is positioned during speech and to master the production of key speech sounds. The research intervention has ultimately transformed their speech communication and improved their quality of life.  

Some children who are unable to articulate the differences between consonants (for example, when they are trying to produce sounds like T and K, or SH and S) do not respond to conventional speech and language therapy. This occurs as these children are unable to make use of the feedback they receive about how their errors sound to others. They may also be unable to learn new and unfamiliar articulations. There are therefore, unfortunately, a number of older children and young people with well entrenched speech errors, who, despite many years of clinical intervention, have made little or no progress with correcting their speech sound errors. 

When children don’t understand how to make improvements to (correct) their speech sounds, the conventional therapy that they are using can become uninteresting and demoralising. In time, this therapy can become unproductive. Our research has shown that such children can benefit from seeing visually what the tongue is actually doing inside the mouth during speech, rather than solely relying on what they hear. The visual feedback helps them to learn how to repeat sounds that their therapist makes. Specifically, we have found that the child can benefit from additional feedback that relates more directly to their own articulations. If a child and their therapist can both, together, see dynamic images on a screen that are directly created from the child’s own articulators, in real-time, and accompanied by accurate feedback on how these new articulations sound, then they can overcome these persistent speech disorders. In simple terms, the child and their therapist use both visual imagery (in real time) to work out what is going wrong inside the mouth, and the child can see from their therapist where the tongue should be placed to correct the same sound, as well as using feedback on how each attempt sound. Together, they are now able to make breakthroughs to the way sounds and words are pronounced. This is achieved through the use of advanced ultrasound technology and clinical protocols developed at Queen Margaret University.