Speech Sound Development: What Sounds to Expect and When

One of the most exciting stages in child development is when little ones use words to communicate for the first time; however, this excitement is frequently followed by parent concerns regarding their child’s ability to say certain letter sounds and be understood by others. As speech therapists working with young children, we are often approached by parents with questions about their child’s articulation development. Many times, parents are surprised to find that a variety of speech sounds are not usually acquired until a later age. For example, a typically developing four-year-old child may be pronouncing “r” as a “w” (I see the “wabbit”), or “th” as a “d” (give me “dat”). One easy way to determine if your child is developing his or her articulation skills appropriately is by referencing the ages at which most, but not all, children master certain speech sounds.

What is considered “typical” speech sound development?
Similar to other developmental milestones, such as crawling and walking, speech sounds are usually learned and mastered within a specific timeframe. The bullets below may provide a great frame of reference as to where your child should be in terms of speech sound development, as about ~85% of children will develop sounds at the following ages:

By two-to-three years of age:

• “p” as in “pop”
• “b” as in “ball”
• “m” as in “mama”
• “d” as in “daddy”
• “n” as in “no”
• “h” as in “hat”
• “t” as in “take”
• “k” as in “cat”
• “g” as “go”
• “w” as in “we”
• “ng” as in “talking”
• “f” as in “fish”
• “y” as in “yes

By four years of age:

• “l” as in “like”
• “j” as in “jump”
• “ch” as in “chew”
• “s” as in “see”
• “v” as in “van”
• “sh” as in “shoe”
• “z” as in “zebra”

By five years of age:

• “r” as in “rat
• “zh” as in “measure”
• “th” (voiced) as in “that”

By six years of age:

• “th” (voiceless) as in “think”

As mentioned above, it is important to remember that not ALL children will develop speech sounds at these listed ages; however, this information may provide some insight into when the majority of children will develop certain sounds.

When are my concerns justified, and what can I do?
With the information provided above, you may consider informally monitoring whether your child appears to be producing age-appropriate sounds or not. If you continue to have concerns regarding your child’s speech sound development, we recommend that you contact a speech therapist to further discuss your child’s articulation skills.

Questions or concerns?
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s speech sound development, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439

Kelsey Martin, MS, CF-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist

Reference: McLeod, S. & Crowe, K. (2018). Children’s consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0100.

Photo Credit: Thiago Cerqueira via Unsplash

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