Speech refers to the pronunciation of sounds. While children develop individually, there is a pattern to a child’s sound development. Children’s speech becomes clearer gradually, as they hear and learn new sounds. Ear infections are common in children and can interfere with sound development, so it is important to have your child’s hearing assessed. When a child is having difficulty producing sounds that are expected for their age their speech may be difficult to understand.

From 0-3 years, children should be able to say:

• lip sounds – p, b, m, w
• tongue tip sounds – t, d, n
• back of the mouth sounds – k, g
• other sounds – h, y

Sucking, learning to bite and chew, as well as putting objects in their mouths are all important behaviours that assist sound development, as they help children become aware of their mouth parts and to control and to change mouth positions.

By 4 ½ years, children should be able to say:

• tongue tip sounds – s, z
• middle of the mouth sounds – sh, ch
• other sounds – l, j, f

Most children can be understood most of the time by this age. Their speech may become less clear if they are tired, unwell or excited. Songs, rhymes, play, books, talking and listening to other children all help them to sort out word and sound patterns.

By 8 ½ years, children should be able to say:

• all of the sounds clearly
• the last sounds to develop are – v, th, r

Some children take extra time to blend sounds together, for example, tree, plane and desk.

Learning to use sounds

Children may make mistakes when they begin to talk that are considered to be a developmentally appropriate error for their age. They may:

• say an easier sound for a difficult one, such as “tar” for “car”, “wing” for “ring”
• leave out sounds, such as “boa” for “boat“
• leave out parts of words, such as “te’phone” for “telephone”
• mix up the order of sounds, such as “psghetti” for “spaghetti”
• say one sound instead of two or more, such as “pane” for “plane”, “bider” for “spider”

If children continue to make these errors after what is appropriate for their age, they may have a delay in  their sound development.

Helping children to learn sounds

• Enjoy sounds – as your child learns new sounds, imitate them.
• When you don’t understand a word or a sentence, gently say so … and then try and work it
out together. When necessary, ask your child to show you the object they are talking about.
• Check that you have got a message right.
• Expect some mistakes. Learning to talk takes years.
• Listen to what children say, rather than every sound.
• Speak clearly and simply. Talk together often.

This information was provided by Speech Pathology Australia. for more information, go to www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au