Speech sound development is a gradual process which happens over many years. All children follow an individual path in speech sound development as each of their life experiences is individual; children learning two languages will learn two sets of speech sounds. Children develop clear speech in quiet language stimulating environments.
They rely on both their listening skills and visual skills to follow lip patterns and match their own speech to the speech they hear. Babies engage in vocal play i.e. babbling and cooing. They rely on adults in their environment to teach the basics of conversational rules e.g. turn-taking and imitation, this helps them to attend to the detail of the speech sounds they hear.
The tables below show the sounds child typically learn at certain ages, examples of words containing those sounds and the most common errors they make. Older children with delayed speech may continue to make errors typical in younger children’s speech.
Another important area of speech sound development is phonological awareness. Phonological Awareness is the awareness that language is composed of words, syllables and sounds. A child needs to be able to identify and manipulate sounds, syllables and words within language to develop strong foundations for reading and spelling.
Manipulating sounds includes deleting, adding, substituting or reversing the order of syllables or sounds e.g., say ‘can’; now say it without the /k/; say can with /m/ instead of /k/.
Some children with phonological awareness difficulties may also experience speech sound difficulties due to poor sound discrimination skills.
Avoid asking the child to say something ‘properly’.
Concentrate on what the child is saying, rather than how. Instead of correcting, give the child good ‘speech models’. For example, if the child comes up to you and says ‘I drawed a tat’, accept it by saying ‘That’s a nice cat’, ‘It’s a fluffy cat’, emphasising the word ‘cat’.
Show the child you are listening to them by presenting him/her with the correct ‘speech model’.
Stop and wait – give the child the space to have a go, and see if they repeat it on their own. Many children will, but it’s important that they do not feel forced to repeat the word.
If you have difficulties understanding what a child is saying, ask the child to ‘show you’ what s/he is talking about, encouraging him/her to point or gesture alongside what s/he says.
Between the ages of 0-6 months babies experiment with a variety of vocalizations including squeals, growls, yells, and the production of “raspberries”.
At around 6 months your baby will start to babble using the same sound e.g., ba ba ba, ma ma ma, da da da. Babies then go on to babbling using a mix of different sounds and also use adult- like intonation so that their utterances sound like real questions or exclamations.
Around this age your child will start to say their first words. These early words may not become ‘distinct’ (clear) for some time. At the earliest stages, words and sounds are simple, usually consisting of only a consonant and vowel, or with the consonant and vowel repeated. e.g. mama, dada, no, tea, wowwow, byebye.
It is common for consonants at the ends of words to be missed off at this stage, and because of the limited range of speech sounds, many words may appear similar, e.g. “da” may be used for ‘that’, ‘daddy’, ‘cat’, ‘car’, etc.
At this age developing a child’s listening skills will enable them to focus their attention on specific sounds, crucial for them to focus their attention on speech sounds when they are ready to acquire these.
Produce rhyme by pattern e.g. give the word “bat” as a rhyming word for “cat”
Recognise alliteration (words beginning with the same first sound), e.g. “blue, butterfly, they’re the same”
Children are learning a wide range of sounds around age 3. These include: m, n, h, p, ng, w, d, t, y, b, g, and k. Some of these sounds will have been used by some children before this age – children can vary as to which of these early sounds they learn first. Around age 3 and a half, children also start to use the speech sound ‘f’
4 years: At this age, children are learning the sound ‘l’, but might produce this as ‘y’ (e.g. light pronounced as ‘yight’). They are also learning the sounds ‘sh’ and ‘ch’, but may pronounce these with a ‘t’or ‘s’ instead (e.g. ‘Shop’ becomes ‘top’ or ‘sop’, ‘Chair’ becomes ‘tair’ or ‘sair’).
4 and a half years: At this age, children are learning the sounds ‘s’, ‘z’ and ‘j’. These sounds may also be pronounced as ‘t’ or ‘d’, e.g. ‘Sun’ becomes ‘tun’, ‘Zip’ becomes ‘dip’. 5 years: Children are now learning the speech sound ‘r’. This can be pronounced as ‘w’ initially, e.g. ‘rain’ is pronounced as ‘wain’.Children’s speech between the ages of 4-5 years old will still contain substitutions for some speech sounds, as detailed above. However, their speech should be easy to understand to people outside of their immediate family, and when speaking in and out of context.
Children’s awareness of sounds within words is developing at this age. These skills are crucial pre-literacy skills. They will be able to recognise that two words rhyme, and suggest their own rhyming words (real or nonsense words). They will be able to break words up into syllables (e.g. ‘happy’ has two beats), and are just learning to count single sounds (phonemes) within words (e.g. know that ‘cat’ contains 3 sounds, c-a-t).