Speech Sound Development
Speech Sound Development - Why can’t I understand what my child is saying?
Learning to communicate is a step by step process for all children. A newborn communicates by crying, a 6 month old starts using sounds and babbling, and around 11 months children usually start using first words. Most children’s speech becomes clearer as they get older and get more practice at hearing and using sounds, words and sentences.
Ear infections are common in children and can interfere with their speech sound development. It is important your child’s hearing is checked early by a qualified Audiologist, and any signs of hearing difficulties are dealt with promptly.
Intelligibility – percentage of a child’s conversation that you can understand.
Sometimes it can be hard to understand what your child is saying, particularly for people who do not spend a lot of time with your child. Children can feel frustrated and even angry that people cannot understand what they are saying.
This is known as intelligibility, which is the percentage of a child’s conversation that a listener can readily understand.
Table 1: How well words can be understood by parents
- By 18 months a child's speech is normally 25% intelligible
- By 24 months a child's speech is normally 50 -75% intelligible
- By 36 months a child's speech is normally 75-100% intelligible
Phonetic development – speech sound development
Developing the different sounds (articulation), and being able to accurately sequencing them together at the start, middle and end of words, and within sentences (phonetics), can be a difficult skill to develop. While children all acquire the speech sounds at their own individual rate there is a general pattern to children’s speech sound development or articulation.
Table 2: Speech sound development by ages
|Age by which 75% children use the sound accurately||Sound||Example|
|Initial Position||Medial Position||Final Position|
|3 Years 6 Months||f||Fish||Telephone||Roof|
|4 Years 6 Months||j
|8 Years||th (voiced - loud)||That||Gather||--|
|8 Years 6 Months||th (voiceless - quiet)||Think||--||Mouth|
Phonological development - Speech sound patterns
All children make normal patterns of speech sound error, depending on their age. Even though they may be able to produce the right speech sounds for their age, sometimes they have difficulty organising these sounds in words and sentences. These errors are known as ‘Phonological process’ which describes the developmental ‘error patterns’ or ‘simplifications’ that typically occur in young children’s speech development.
While children all develop at their own individual rate there is a general pattern to children’s phonological development.
Table 3: Resolution of Phonological processes by ages
|Age by which the phonological error goes||Phonological Process||Example|
|3 Years||Pre-vocalic voicing
Final consonant de-voicing
|Pen → Ben
Pig → Pick
Fish → Tish
Sink → Tink
|3 Years 3 Months||Final consonant deletion||Dog → Do|
|3 Years 6 Months||Fronting
|Car → Tar
Very → Berry
Zoo → Doo
|3 Years 9 Months||Consonant harmony||Mine → Mime
Kittycat → Tittytat
|4 Years||Cluster reduction
Weak syllable deletion
|Spoon → poon
Blue → b ue
Elephant → ephant
Banana → nana
|4 Years 6 Months||Stopping /sh/
|Shop → Dop
Jam → Dam
Chip → Tip
|5 Years||Gliding of liquids /r/ & /l/
Stopping voiceless /th/
Stopping voiced /th/
|Run → Wun
Leg → Weg
Thing → Ting
Them → Dem
What causes speech sound development difficulties?
Shriberg (2006)1 suggests there are three common causes for speech sound development difficulties:
- Fluctuating hearing loss – this is the most common cause with children who suffer from ear infections and middle ear fluid commonly suffering from fluctuating hearing loss.
- Linguistic processing disorder that may be genetic in nature
- Speech motor control such as childhood apraxia of speech or dysarthria that may be genetic in nature
How does the speech pathologist assess speech sound development?
The speech pathologist will listen to your child talking during play to see how much can be understood by an unfamiliar listener. They will be listening carefully to see what sounds are used in different word positions, and what sounds are missing. They will then ask your child to look at a picture book, or toys, and tell the speech pathologist what they see. Each of the pictures/toys have a particular sound or sounds that the Speech Pathologist is listening for to see if your child can produce that sound in a word.
If you are worried about your child’s speech, if your child sounds different to the ages and stages outlined in the tables, a Speech Pathologist will help you understand what is ‘normal development’ and what may need some extra help. Book an appointment here
- Bowen, C. (2011). Children's speech sound disorders. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on [03.02.2019]
- Bowen, C. (2011). Table 2: Phonological Processess. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on [03.02.2019]
- Grunwell, P. (1997). Natural phonology. In M. Ball & R. Kent (Eds.), The new phonologies: Developments in clinical linguistics. San Deigo, CA: Singular Publishing Group, Inc.
- Kilminster, M.G.E., & Laird, E.M. (1978) Articulation development in children aged three to nine years. Australian Journal of Human Communication Disorders, 6, 1, 23-30.