Speech refers to the way we make sounds to form syllables and words.
On this page:
- Children’s speech – Overview
- What should a child know and when?
- What can I do to help?
- More Information
Children’s speech – Overview
We use our lips, teeth, tongue, palate, and voice to make speech sounds so that people can understand what we say.
Some children have difficulty making speech sounds, putting sounds together, hearing/perceiving speech, or thinking about speech. Some children have difficulty with one or two sounds. Other children have difficulty with many consonants and
vowels and are hard for others to understand.
Speech pathologists help children with speech difficulties.
For most children, there is no known cause for their speech difficulties. For some children, known reasons include: hearing loss, cleft palate, or a family member has had speech difficulties.
Some terms used to describe different types of speech difficulties in children include:
- speech sound disorders
- phonological disorders
- articulation disorders
- childhood apraxia of speech
The short video below explains:
- What is speech?
- What should a child know and when?
- How can I help a child with speech difficulties?
What should a child know and when?
Children learn to make sounds at different ages.
Click here for a printable handout providing information on the age
children learn speech sounds across the world.
Preschool-aged children may still have difficulty producing long words (polysyllables, such as hippopotamus, vegetables) and two consonant sounds together (consonant clusters, such as brick, smart, splash, free). By the end of preschool they
should be able to be understood by most people, even strangers.
Children make predictable error patterns as they are learning speech sounds (e.g., spaghetti → ghetti, sun → dun, fish → bish, rabbit → wabbit). There are certain ages that most children stop using different
Sometimes children might make errors with sounds in words, even though you have heard them say the sounds correctly before. There are many reasons why this may happen. Some words are more complex than others because of the other sounds in the
word, or the length of the words (e.g., ambulance). It is also more difficult to say words which are not spoken very often (low frequency words).
Click on the links below for information about children’s speech sound development at different ages.
- Words For Life website – Milestones (select the appropriate age range)
Speech Pathology Australia – look under the “Resources for the public – Factsheets” section and download “The Sounds of
Speech: 0 to 3 years”.
What can I do to help?
There are ways that you can help children learn sounds. You can:
Model sounds in your own talking. Give examples of how sounds are used when you talk with children. They do not have to say the sounds after you.
Child: I see a tow!
Adult: Oh, you see the cow? It’s a big cow isn’t it!
Another example is when a child is leaving the end sound off a word and an adult is modelling (showing) how to correct it:
Child: (pointing to nose) “My no”
Adult: “There’s your nose! Here’s my nose! Let’s try to put our end sound on nose”
Praise children if they try to say the word after you. It is okay if they do not copy you.
Avoid practising mistakes.Avoid asking children for repeated attempts at saying words if they are having trouble – they may become frustrated and make it more difficult to learn the correct sound.
Here are some handouts with practical activities/ideas you can do with children to help their speech sound development.
Download the one-page summary for tips on helping children learn speech sounds.
Helping children to learn sounds at the start of words:
Download the speech sounds resource for the complete collection of speech
sound handouts (consonants at the start of words). The handouts include suggested rhymes, play-based activities, and books that provide opportunities for children to hear and learn about speech sounds at the start of words.
Sounds by place and manner:
These handouts are grouped by where and how sounds are made (e.g., sounds made with air coming through the nose, sounds made with the tongue up at the back of the mouth) and include information about common error patterns that children make as
they are learning sounds.
Some sounds are in more than one handout (e.g., ‘s’ is a ‘front sound’ and a ‘long sound’).
- Back sounds – sounds made at the back of your mouth (k, g, ng)
- Front sounds – sounds made at the front of your mouth (t, d, n, l, s, z)
- Lip sounds – sounds made with your lips together (p, b, m, f, v, w)
- Nose sounds – sounds made through your nose (m, n, ng)
- Explosive sounds – sounds made with an explosion of air (ch, j)
- Liquid sounds – (l, r)
- Long sounds – sounds made with a long flow of air (f, v, h, s, z, sh, th)
- Short sounds – sounds made with a short puff of air (p, b, t, d, k, g)
- End sounds – sounds at the end of words
- Friendly sounds (consonant clusters) – two or three consonants together in words
Click on the links below for more information about supporting children’s speech development:
- Dr Caroline Bowen’s website has information for families about encouraging children’s speech development
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has detailed
information about speech sound disorders
- I CAN Children’s Communication Charity (UK) has information about children’s communication development.
Check with your local library for story time or other children’s groups that may be held at the library.