Speech Sounds Development

Speech is the ability to use your lips, tongue and other parts of your mouth to produce sounds.

For speech, children need to understand different sounds and the rules for putting those sounds together in their own language.

Most children master the following sounds at the following ages:

  • around 3 years: b, p, m, n, h, d, k, g, ng (as in ‘sing’), t, w, f, y
  • around 4-5 years: f, sh, zh, ch, j, s, and cluster sounds tw, kw, gl, bl
  • around 6 years: l, r, v, and cluster sounds pl, kl, kr, fl, tr, st, dr, br, fr, gr, sn, sk, sw, sp, str, spl
  • around 7-8 years: th, z, and cluster sounds sm, sl, thr, skw, spr, skr.

It is quite normal for children to make speech errors during the first few years of speech development. Around three years of age, most of what a child says to others (e.g. parents, siblings and so on) can be understood (speech intelligibility), most of the time. In other words, most three year old children have at least 80% speech intelligibility.

Spotting speech problems 

There is a difference between a speech delay and disorder, although a delay can be classed as a disorder if the delay is significant.

A speech delay is when the child is following the expected pattern of speech sound acquisition BUT at a slower rate than expected for their age.

A speech disorder is when the child’s speech development is atypical, in other words, the child is not acquiring the speech sounds in the order expected. They may find some more complex / later sounds easier to produce than sounds which normally develop earlier and are easier to say.

Speech difficulties can be phonological, articulatory (e.g. Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia)voice or fluency related.

If you’re worried that your child might have a speech sound difficulty, think about how often people who don’t know your child have trouble understanding what your child says.

When a child is two, an unfamiliar person should understand about half to three-quarters of what the child is saying.

When a child is three and older, an unfamiliar person should understand the child most of the time, even though the child will probably still say some sounds and words differently from adults.

Some speech disorders happen when a child has a physical problem (like a cleft palate or tongue-tie) that makes it hard for the child to create certain speech sounds. Others have trouble because of a hearing impairment (deafness) such as ‘glue ear’ (otitis media). There may be no obvious reason for their speech delay or disorder.

Speech disorders are different from language delay or disorder.

Children with language delay may use very few words for their age or not understand what you say. Their use of word and sentence structure will also be delayed (grammar). Some children with speech delay or disorder also present with language delay or disorder, this is called speech and language delay or developmental language disorder.

Does your child show any of these signs?

  • sounds immature for their age – that is, uses only a few or limited speech sounds or patterns
  • doesn’t pronounce words the way you’d expect for their age
  • gets frustrated about speaking – for example, gets upset when they are not understood, has to repeat sounds or they may stutter.
  • may appear to have hearing loss
  • has frequent colds and is regularly congested
  • has difficulty with their attention and listening
  • may appear to lip read sometimes

You may be referred to an audiologist, for a hearing test, if there’s a possibility that your child’s speech problems are caused by a hearing impairment.

Helping your child’s speech development

It’s normal for young children to pronounce words differently from adults. There’s no need to correct them every time they make a mistake – this can be frustrating for everyone.

If you want to encourage your child, gentle reminders can help your child pronounce words the right way. For example, if your child says, ‘I see a tat’, you could reply, ‘Yes, there’s the cat’  ‘What is the cat doing?’ This involves repeating the missing or different sound – ‘cat’ – with a slight emphasis.

If your child’s speech is really hard to understand, here are some ideas for helping your child to communicate:

  • Ask your child to show you what he’s talking about – for example, ask your child to point to the thing they want.
  • Ask simple questions to get more information about what your child is trying to say – for example, ‘Are you telling me about something that happened today? Did it happen at pre-school?’ Then let your child tell you the rest of the story.
  • Encourage your child to talk slowly by being patient, giving them your attention and allowing them to finish. Let your child know you’re listening, and that they have all the time in the world to tell you.

What not to worry about with speech development

Although children might be able to make the right sounds, they might not use them correctly in words in the early years. And while they’re learning to talk, children simplify adult speech to make it easier to say.

This means you probably don’t need to worry if your young child:

  • substitutes sounds in words (‘dod’ instead of ‘dog’)
  • drops sounds from the end of words (‘ha’ instead of ‘hat’)
  • simplifies difficult sound combinations (‘side’ instead of ‘slide’)
  • drops syllables (‘boon’ instead of ‘balloon’).

These types of speech errors are quite normal and to be expected for a three year old, however if your child is making lots of speech errors, you can’t understand what they are saying or you act as ‘interpreter’ or they become frustrated when trying to make themselves understood, then they may need our help.

How can the Speech and Language Therapists, at Articulate, help my child?

  • Proven expertise. Hulya Mehmet has been a specialist in treating speech disorders, including complex disorders and Developmental Verbal Dyspraxia, for almost twenty years, and has the expertise to identify, diagnose and treat speech difficulties.
  • Specialist Intervention. Hulya has an incredible success rate of treating children with speech disorders. Our therapy sessions are based on clinical expertise with a focus of fun for your child. Your child will have a great time in their therapy session and won’t want to leave. They are proud of their ‘homework’ we set and can’t wait to show us what they’ve achieved.  We work hard to ensure your child develops clear speech. Clear speech helps your child to become happy, confident, and articulate with brilliant communication skills not to mention a positive impact on behaviour. It is a win-win.
  • Proven Assessment. To test (and treat) for speech delay or disorder, we use the highly researched and proven Nuffield Dyspraxia Programme and other standardised assessments. We will look at your child’s oral–motor skills, speech prosody (intonation, rate, volume etc.), and how they say different sounds. To test how your child says sounds we do a thorough assessment and analysis of motor movements of speech, furthermore we check your child’s language skills as we know speech difficulties can affect literacy development and often coexists with dyslexia. We also take an overall look at their fine and gross motor development too. You can rest assured we’ve got it all covered.
  • Life-changing Therapy.  We are proud of our track record. To date all children treated by Hulya with speech delay or disorder  were able to start Reception year in mainstream school with the same level of speech development as their peers, with no concerns raised about speech or literacy by their Reception teacher.
  • Little Learners. Many of the children we treat zoom ahead in their literacy skills. Why? Because Hulya (and the team) work hard to ensure each child receives treatment which not only results in normal speech production but also boosts their phonological awareness resulting in fantastic literacy (reading) development.

We’re on Your Team. We understand how tough it can be to find the right therapist and also get the right amount of therapy for your child. At Articulate, we provide what your child needs. We treat the child, in addition, as part of each session we also train the parent to do ‘therapy’. This empowers parents with the skills to support and develop their child’s speech, language and communication. Together we get better results, faster.