What speech sounds should my child be able to say at their age
(and what to do if you think your child is falling behind)
Did you know there are 44 speech sounds in the English language? 20 Vowel Sounds and 24 Consonant Sounds.1
As children develop their speech sounds, they tend to follow a pattern or sequence2. At first baby vocalisations are reflexive, such as crying, coughing and burping. Between 8 – 16 weeks babies will typically start producing their first vowel sounds “ah” and “oo”. These are the ‘cute’ coo’s, goo’s and gah’s we all enjoy.
As children listen to the language being spoken around them and to them, their early speech sounds develop. Vocal play typically takes place from 16 – 26 weeks. Babies will start to experiment with making sounds of different pitches and volumes. From 6 months babies start babbling and producing their first consonant sounds, most commonly “ma ma ma” “da da da” and “bah bah bah”. Their babbling should show the beginnings of conversation from 10 months.
A child’s speech sound development continues for approximately 7 years until the muscles of their lips, teeth and tongue have developed and learnt the sophisticated movements necessary to produce all 44 sounds.
Speech Sound Development Chart
|3 months||Making cooing sounds. E.g. ahhh|
|5 months||Child is laughing and making playful sounds.|
|6 months||Speech-sounding babbling sounds start, e.g. me, pah, bah, da|
|1 year||Babbling begins to sound like real words as they string more sounds together. E.g. upup, babada, mama|
|2-3 years||Able to say the sounds: p, b, m, d, n, h, t, k, g, w, ng, f, y in words.|
By 3 years old, familiar people should be able to understand your child’s speech.
|4 years||Able to say the sounds: l, j, ch, s, v, sh, z in words.|
Your child may still be making mistakes on: s, sh, ch, j, ng, th, z, l, and r.
Most people should understand your child’s speech at this age.
|5 years||Able to say r, zh (e.g. ‘measure’), th (voiced – e.g. in ‘that’ and ‘there’)|
|6 years||Able to say a voiceless th (e.g. in ‘thunder’ and ‘thick’)|
Consonant vs Vowel Sound development
Looking at the chart above you can be forgiven for thinking “what about the 20 vowel sounds?” The chart above is almost exclusively about consonants. For most English language learners the most common speech sound errors are consonant sounds. It is much less common for a child to struggle with vowel sounds. In fact, vowel sound errors are often indicative of a more complex condition called Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)3. Learn more about CAS here.
Consonant Sound Development
Children usually follow a similar sequence when developing the 24 consonant sounds. This progression is categorised into the “early 8”, “middle 8 and “late 8”.
|Early 8 Sounds||Middle 8 Sounds||Late 8 Sounds|
|Emerging between ages 1-3.|
Consistent production ~ age 3
|Emerging between ages 3-6 ½.|
Consistent production ~ age 5 ½
|Emerging between ages 5 -7 ½|
Consistent production ~ age 7 ½
|/m/ as in “mama”|
/b/ as in “baby”
/y/ as in “you”
/n/ as in “no”
/w/ as in “we”
/d/ as in “daddy”
/p/ as in “pop”
/h/ as in “hi”
|/t/ as in “two”|
/ng/ as in “running”
/k/ as in “cup”
/g/ as in “go”
/f/ as in “fish”
/v/ as in “van”
/ch/ as in “chew”
“j” as in “jump”
|/sh/ as in “sheep”|
/s/ as in “see”
/th/ as in “think”
/th/ as in “that”
/r/ as in “red”
/z/ as in “zoo”
/l/ as in “like”
/zh/ as in “measure”
Common Speech Sound Errors.
While a child is learning a speech sound it is normal for them to make mistakes. It is helpful to be able to recognise these mistakes for a couple of reasons. First, if you recognise one of these speech sound errors it is very helpful to correct them in the moment. Doing so helps your child hear the correction and practice correcting it. Second is to notice if they get stuck. Muscle movements depend on neural pathways. If a child creates strong neural pathways that create a speech sound incorrectly there is an increasing chance this will become a speech disorder and they will need speech therapy to help reprogram new neural pathways for the correct sound.
Below is a list of common speech sound errors broken into age categories where the sound error is developmentally normal. If your child continues to make these errors into older ages it may be necessary to get help from a speech pathologist.
1-2 years old:
- When your child replaces a quiet (voiceless) sound to a noisy (voiced) one, this is called voicing. For example, if ‘pea’ becomes ‘bee’.
- A long sound with airflow (e.g. s, sh, f) becomes a short sound with no airflow (e.g. t, d). This is called stopping. For example, if ‘sea’ becomes ‘tea’
- If your child leaves off the end of a word. This is called final consonant deletion. For example ‘cat’ becomes ‘ca’
- When back sounds (e.g. k, g) are said at the front of the mouth and turn into t and d. This is called velar fronting. For example, when ‘car’ becomes ‘tar’
- The tongue moves forward in the mouth and turns sh into s. This is called palatal fronting. For example ‘shed’ becomes ‘said’
- When a child leaves out a non-stressed syllable in a word, this is called weak syllable deletion. For example, tomato becomes mato.
- When two consonants in a word and reduced to only one consonant (for example ‘tree’ becomes ‘tee’) this is called cluster reduction
- When r and l sounds become w and y (for example ‘rabbit’ becomes ‘wabbit’), this is called gliding.
- When th becomes f (e.g. ‘thunder’ becomes ‘funder’) and v (‘them’ becomes ‘vem’)
2-3 years old:
- We still expect to see lots of the same processes in 1-2 year olds like: voicing, stopping, final consonant deletion, velar fronting, palatal fronting, weak syllable deletion, cluster reduction, gliding and ‘th’ becomes ‘v’ or ‘f’
(see explanation of these processes under the 1-2 years old category)
3-4 years old:
- Your child should start fixing many of the above processes. It is still common for them to have: weak syllable deletion, cluster reduction, gliding and ‘th’ becomes ‘v’ or ‘f’ (see explanation of these processes under the 1-2 years old category)
4-6 years old:
- Now your child should begin mastering many consonant sounds and be easily understood in conversation. We may still expect to see some gliding and difficulty with the ‘th’ sound
- Ideally, we would start working on ‘r’ and ‘th’ sounds before your child starts school, so that they can have the best start possible for their reading and writing skills.
6-7 years old:
- The only difficult sounds for children this age may be ‘th’, all other processes should be CORRECTED
7-8 years old:
- NONE! Your child should be speaking fluently and be able to pronounce all consonants accurately.
How can I support my child’s development of these speech sounds?
Nurturing and responsive environments in which children are frequently exposed to lots of language can dramatically improve a child’s speech development6. Here’s 5 helpful tips you can follow to help your child develop to their potential7.
- Imitate and play with their early speech sounds. Treat every communication attempt as meaningful. Try to respond with affection and attention each time. Don’t be afraid to sound silly as you repeat back to the child their sounds and early words
- Enrich your day to day interactions with language. Use every opportunity to comment and narrate what is going on in the world round you and your child.
- Make it fun! Stimulate interaction with games like peek-a-boo. Sing nursery rhymes with your child. Follow your child’s interests and play preferences or make up nonsense words can help them learn more about different sounds and rhyming words.
- Model, model, model! Repeat clear and exaggerated sounds as an opportunity for your child to imitate you. If your child mispronounces a sound, simply model the correct pronunciation and DO NOT focus on the mistake – make this a positive experience. E.g. If your child says ‘I heard funder’ instead of ‘thunder’, you could respond with interest by saying ‘Oh, you heard thunder? I heard it too. The thunder was so loud!’
- Practice sounds face-to-face with your child or side by side in the mirror. This will allow them to see your mouth movements as you say each sound. Get them to copy your mouth movements. This way you can easily see what they are doing with their lips, tongue and teeth. You can add some silly faces in there to make it extra fun!
What can you do if you suspect your child’s speech sounds aren’t following the typical developmental pattern?
If you notice that your child continues to have speech sound errors past the developmentally appropriate age then early intervention is best. Start by including as many of the tips above in day-to-day life and book in to get assistance from a speech pathology service. Speech Pathologists are specifically trained to be able to identify speech sounds disorders and are uniquely skilled in therapy approaches to target a speech sound error.
You can read more about speech delays and speech sound disorders, what may cause it, what it looks like, when to seek help and how speech therapy can help here. https://www.talkshop.com.au/how-we-help/how-speech-pathology-treats-speech-delay-disorder-problem-children-speechtherapy-sydney-milestones/
If your child is heading towards school age and is often difficult to understand or showing mispronunciation of words, we recommend bringing them in for a speech sound assessment.
Feel free to book an initial consultation on our website or give us a call on (02) 7209 3838 if you have any questions!
- Rao, C. S. (2015). The intelligibility of English sounds: A study of phonetics. English for Specific Purposes World, ISSN, 1682-3257.
- Berk, L. E. (2013). Child Development (9th Edition). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Bloom, L., & Lahey, M. (1978). Language development and language disorders. New York, NY, US: John Wiley & Sons.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. (2007). Childhood apraxia of speech [Technical Report].
- Shriberg, L. (1993). Four new speech and voice-prosody measures for genetics research and other studies in developmental phonological disorders. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 36, 105–140.
- ASHA. n.d. Speech Sound Disorders. [online]
- Harrison, L. J., & McLeod, S. (2010). Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 53(2), 508. Risk and protective factors associated with speech and language impairment in a nationally representative sample of 4- to 5-year-old children.
- Levy, A., 2018. speech sounds – What to Expect and How to Help your Child Learn Sounds | Clear Communicators Speech Therapy. [online] Clear Communicators Speech Therapy.