What is Assimilation?
To make words easier to pronounce, all speech sounds can change slightly to become similar to the sounds around them. This process is known as assimilation. Often these changes are so subtle that we don't notice them.
Examples of Assimilation
Many sounds are influenced by the sounds around them. In American English, at least, most speakers pronounce the /ă/ in "man" (as well as in "exam" and "example") quite differently than they do the /ă/ in cat or clap because of the influence of the nasal /n/. Other examples include:
- /t/ to /ch/ - picture, architecture, nature
- /d/ to /j/ - education, arduous
- /z/ to /ZH/ - azure, usual, measure
- /s/ to /sh/ - sugar, sure
- /ks/ to /gs/ - exam, example
Teach Students About Assimilation
We find it helpful to teach students about the concept of assimilation and help them feel what it is and why it happens. We recommend the following to help students understand how assimilation affects the pronunciation of words:
- Talk directly with students about how the word "should" be pronounced, according to the sound of the phonogram.
- Help them notice the difference between the spelling and how it's pronounced.
- Have them feel the position of their mouths for each of the sounds as they say them slowly versus quickly.
Once students can feel this themselves, they usually find it pretty easy to understand how people's mouths just took the "easy road" and shifted this sound a bit to a similar sound that is a little easier to say.
Tips for Spelling Assimilated Words
- Cue students with say-to-spell if the word is spelled differently than you pronounce it. Slow down and exaggerate the pronunciation of the individual sounds to help you pronounce them with the correct sound.
- Ask your student to repeat the word using the say-to-spell pronunciation. Many young children enjoy this activity given suggestions to use a "silly" or "fancy" voice to differentiate the pronunciation from their everyday speech patterns. Remind your student that they do not need to change how they say the word in a conversation. These activities are only to help with spelling.
- Distinctly pronounce each syllable in multi-syllable words to isolate the sound in words that are affected by assimilation.