Speech Sounds

It takes around 8 years for children to master all the speech sounds in the English language. With only 26 letters in the English alphabet, children have to learn 42 different sounds!! Many of these are vowel sounds (eg., ay, ee, oo, or, er, and so on) which are typically mastered without any intervention and at a fairly early age (around 3 years). Consonant sounds (eg., p, f, sh, z, y, and so on) follow a developmental progression. Many sounds are typically mastered by 4 years of age, but there are still others that take longer to become established in children's speech. The chatter of many 2-3 year olds can be difficult to understand at times, especially to unfamiliar people, but by the time a child reaches 3-4 years of age, they are usually easy to understand almost all of the time. By the time children reach school age, they will need clear speech to help them speak confidently in front of others, to make their ideas and beliefs understood, and to help them develop early reading and writing skills. Research tells us that children with significant speech sound difficulties are at greater risk of developing reading and writing difficulties in the early school years. Speech sound difficulties can be caused by a variety of factors...

  • Slow or disordered development of sounds
  • Low tone or strength in the muscles responsible for speech
  • Difficulties coordinating the muscles and movements for speech
  • Hearing impairment - permanent hearing loss or intermittent hearing loss associated with recurrent ear infections or glue ear

The following information will give you a general idea of speech sound development, typical patterns of error, and things to look out for.

The 2 year old child

A typically developing 2 year old should be able to use the following sounds in their speech:

m  n  p  b  t  d  w  h

Most 2 year olds are generally quite difficult to understand. You may hear lots of sound errors in their speech that are very typical for this age, such as...

  • Leaving off the last sound in a word (eg. saying bu- for bus)
  • Substituting a short sound (such as d) for a long sound (such as sh) so that they may say dip for ship
  • Leaving out a sound from a consonant cluster (two consonants joined together, such as st-, bl-, sm-) so that they may say tar for star
  • Making long words easier by making them shorter (eg. saying bella for umbrella, or efent for elephant)
  • Substituting a t sound for a k sound (and a d sound for a g sound) so that they may say tate for cake or dood for good
  • Lisping with the tongue between the teeth on s and z sounds, so that they may say thun for sun

It is never part of typical development for a child to...

  • Leave off the first sound in a word (eg. saying -us for bus)
  • Leave out a sound in the middle of a word (eg. saying bu-er for butter)

The 3 year old child

A typically developing 3 year old should be able to use the following sounds in their speech...

m  n  p  b  t  d  w  h  k  g  y

At 3 years of age, a child is generally easy to understand about 75% of the time. It is still typical for them to have errors, such as...

  • Leaving out a sound from a consonant cluster (two consonants joined together, such as st-, bl-, sm-) so that they may say tar for star
  • Making long words easier by making them shorter (eg. saying bella for umbrella or efent for elephant)
  • Lisping with the tongue between the teeth on s and z sounds, so that they may say thun for sun

By around 3 1/2 years it is usually not typical for a child to...

  • Substitute a short sound (such as d) for a long sound (such as sh) so that they may say dip for ship
  • Leave off the last sound in a word, so that they may say bu- for bus
  • Substitute a t sound for a k sound (or a d sound for a g sound) so that they may say tate for cake or dood for good

The 4 year old child

A typically developing 4 year old should be able to use the following sounds in their ...

m  n  p  b  t  d  w  h  k  g  y  s  z  f  l  (and sh  ch  j by 4 1/2 years)

At 4 years of age a child is generally easy to understand all of the time, although some errors may still be present, such as...

  • Substituting w for r so that they may say wabbit for rabbit
  • Substituting b for v so that they may say bideo for video
  • Substituting f (or s or d) for th so that they may say fing for thing or dat for that

At this age it is generally not typical for a child to...

  • Leave out a sound from a consonant cluster (see above)
  • Make a long word easier by making it shorter (see above)
  • Lisp with their tongue between their teeth on s and z

The school-age child

In Kindergarten most children will learn to use r and v correctly in their speech. The th sound may come in Kindergarten or a little later (generally between 6-8 years of age). There should be no other errors in their speech sounds and generally a Kindergarten child can talk clearly and confidently.

 

Checklist of speech sound development

  • Does your child have any speech sound errors that would not be expected at their age (using the guidelines above)?
  • Do family members and/or others find it difficult to understand your child?
  • Does you child become frustrated with their difficulties or withdraw from social interaction because of their difficulties?
  • Is your child's speech limited to only a few sounds?
  • Can you hear sound errors in your child's speech that do not seem to be present in other children the same age as your child?
  • Has your child's teacher expressed concerns about their speech sounds or overall intelligibility?

If you answered YES to any of these questions, you may want to seek advice from a speech pathologist.


 
Headstart For Kids Speech Pathology Unit 7, 57 Crescent Road, WARATAH NSW 2298
P: 0413155258 F: (02) 49671533 E: info@headstartforkids.com.au
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