Soft contacts (also known as light articulatory contacts)
Moments of stuttering often occur when there is too much muscle tension in the tongue or lips. People who stutter can find that they are using extra force to try to push sounds out. For example, you might notice that you bring your lips together with lots of force when trying to make a “p” sound.
Soft contacts, also known as light articulatory contacts, is a technique where speakers learn to use very light tongue and lip movements during speech. Learning to reduce the tension in your tongue and lips can help you flow more easily from one sound to the next. With practice, you will find that you actually need to use very little tension in the lips and tongue while speaking.
Soft contacts are helpful for the production of consonant sounds, particularly those sounds that obstruct airflow. There are some similarities between soft contacts and another technique known as easy onsets (more info on easy onsets here), although easy onsets are used to help produce vowel sounds rather than consonants.
Below I will guide you through how to produce “p” and “t” using soft contacts. Once you have the idea of how to produce soft versions of these, you can move on to practice soft productions of other difficult speech sounds.
You can start to learn this technique by working through the exercises below. It is always a good idea to record yourself and listen back to check that the consonants are sounding soft.
Learning soft contacts with single consonant sounds
Say the sound “p”. Feel where the mouth constricts to make this sound - you will feel your lips come together, air pressure build up, and then the air will burst through the lips as the “p” is produced. This kind of pressure followed by a burst of air is found in all plosive sounds.
Try saying the sound “p” again. This time try to use the absolute minimum amount of tension/constriction in order to make the sound. You will only feel a slight, gentle contact between the lips.
You might find it useful to imagine that you are tip-toeing with you lips and tongue as you produce soft contacts, using only the gentlest movements to produce the sound.
Alternatively, you could visualise a small, delicate bubble on your tongue or between your lips - use very soft movements to avoid popping this imaginary bubble.
As you produce “p” in this way there will be much lower air pressure behind the lips - in fact, the lips may not even fully come together as you produce this sound softly. The “p” will sound a lot softer and quieter when you produce it this way. Do not worry if it doesn’t sound quite right at first, you will learn to make it sound like a more recognisable “p” with practice.
3. Try adding a vowel after the “p” sound. Keep the first sound as soft as possible. Use the absolute minimum tension/constriction as you do so:
Pa Pie Poor Purr
4. Try producing the soft “p” sound at the start of some short phrases:
Post office Pardon me Pie in the sky Play by ear
5. Try of these sentences with several “p” sounds - try to keep each “p” sound soft:
Picture perfect Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Please prune plum trees promptly. Paul, please pause for proper applause.
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Now make a “t” sound. Feel how the tip of the tongue makes contact with the roof of the mouth just behind the teeth. The air pressure then builds up and is then released as the “t” is produced.
Practice producing a “t” sound with the softest possible contact between tongue and the roof of the mouth. You will find that you hardly need to let the tongue/lips/roof of mouth meet in order to produce a “t”. It is normal for the softer version of the sound to be a little less clear. In this case, the “t” may sound more like “ts”.
Try adding a vowel after the “t” sound. Keep the first sound as soft as possible. Use the absolute minimum tension/constriction as you do so:
Ta Tie Toe Toy
4. Try producing the soft “t” sound at the start of some short phrases:
Turn off Tie up Tea leaf Tooth and nail Tell me about it
5. Try of these sentences with several “t” sounds - try to keep each “t” sound soft:
Talk the talk Tom took ten turtles to town Tie twine to two tree twigs The twenty-two train tore through the tunnel
Learning to use soft contact with other speech sounds Work through this same process with some more speech sounds. In each case, notice where the lips and/or tongue come together in the mouth to produce that sound. Next play around with very soft productions of the sound. Find the absolute minimum amount of tension required to produce a soft version of the sound.
The following are some useful sounds to practice with soft contacts:
p b t d k g f v th (as in thing or thistle) th (as in the or them) s z sh ch j (as in jam)
As above, try combining these soft consonant sounds with some vowel sounds, e.g. [consonant] + a, e, i, o, u sounds. Move on to using these soft consonant sounds at the start of some short phrases. Then practise producing the soft consonant sounds in longer sentences and tongue twisters.
Try recording yourself doing this and listen back to check that the consonants are sounding soft.
Learning to use soft contacts in reading, monologue, conversation and beyond When you feel comfortable using soft contacts in sentences with the speech sounds above, try reading aloud or speaking in monologue. You should particularly apply soft contacts to consonants at the start of words or phrases where you feel you are likely to stutter. It will be helpful to keep the amount of tension in the lips and tongue low throughout speech.
Try recording yourself doing this and listen back to check that initial consonant sounds are sounding soft.