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Speech Sound Development in your child

The questions parents ask

Speech sound development begins when babies utter their first sounds and continues right through their preschool years. Actually these skills start at birth when our child is listening from the very beginning. Listening is the first step in learning to produce sounds which leads to meaningful words which in turn leads to sentences and conversations. When a child has difficulty saying words correctly he / she may have a speech delay and / or disorder.

Speech includes the ability to use your lips, tongue and others parts of your mouth to produce sounds. A common question from Parents relates to what sounds their child should be able to produce and when should they be concerned. They often wonder whether their child should be able to say for example “rabbit” and not “wabbit” or if they be worried about them having a lisp at the age of 3.

The table below shows when your child should be able to master different speech sounds. It is important to remember that there can be considerable variations between children. If you have any concerns about your child’s speech acquisition an assessment by a qualified Speech and Language Therapist is recommended. They will check to see if your child is on track for his age.

6 Months -3 Years

p b t d m n f w h
Ideal Pronunciation:
"pig" instead of "big"
"fun" not "bun"

4 Years

v s k g ng
Ideal Pronunciation:
"car" instead of "tar"
"gate" not "date"

5 Years

S Clusters(sp st sk sl) sh ch j
Ideal Pronunciation:
"shop" instead of "sop"
"juice" not "duice"

6 Years

cluster sounds (pl br sn sp) l r
Ideal Pronunciation:
"rabbit" instead of "wabbit"

Acquiring speech sounds is like climbing a ladder. There are lots of steps on this ladder. The first step may have the sounds b, d. And these are the sounds and babbling you hear first at approximately 6-9 months e.g. babababa. That’s one of the reasons you may hear your child say “Dada” before “Mama” (Sorry Dads out there!). There are different types of difficulties that a child can present with when they have trouble pronouncing a word. He / she can present with difficulties with articulation and / or phonology.

Articulation is when a child cannot pronounce the sound and so has to be taught how to, e.g. they speak with an “interdental s” (a lisp). This is when the child sticks his / her tongue out to form a “th” sound instead of an “s” e.g. “thun” for “sun”.

Phonology is when a child can pronounce the sound but can’t always say it correctly in a word e.g. your child might say “tat” for “cat”.

A child may produce age appropriate speech sound errors. For example it is ok if you child says wabbit for rabbit at age 3 because you can see from the chart that a child may not be able to produce this sound correctly in a word until they are over 6 years old. So as children are learning to speak we can expect errors in their sound production. But what we need to do is look at:

  • How many errors they are making
  • Is it taking a long time for these errors to correct themselves and
  • How intelligible is your child, i.e. is he becoming harder and harder to understand as his words move on to phrases and sentences; especially after he turns 3.

If you are worried that your child has a speech disorder think about how often you do not understand what he / she is saying or how often people who do not know your child do not know what he / she is saying. What can you do to help your child who has some difficulty with speech sound production?


So if your child says “Mommy look at the tat” you would respond “Wow Tommy that is a really big cat isn’t it?” i.e. you are saying the incorrectly pronounced word (cat) correctly so your child can hear it the correctly pronounced way. Your child can also see how you are forming the word with your mouth. It is best not to correct your child when he / she mispronounces a word e.g. “no it’s not tat; say cat”.

Your child probably thinks he is saying it the correct way so this may be very confusing and upsetting for him/her. Reading books are a lovely focused way to work on pronunciation as you are naturally modelling the correct pronunciation of words and working on vocabulary too. Ask your child to show you what he / she is talking about i.e. point to what he wants and then you can label the word “oh you want juice”. Encourage your child to talk slowly and make sure he / she knows you are listening.

Ask some questions to try and figure out what he /she might be talking about e.g. “did it happen in school today?”

It is important to ensure your child is not presenting with any hearing difficulty as this can affect his / her pronunciation. If you have any concerns and especially if he / she has suffered from multiple ear infections you may wish to have their hearing assessed by an Audiologist.

Top Tips!

Here are my 5 Top Tips if you have concerns about your child’s speech:

1. Check if your child has a delay of more than 6 months based on the timeline chart.

2. Check if your child is getting frustrated about not being able to get his / her point across.

3. Check if your child may need a hearing assessment.

4. Go with your gut! Parents always know best and will know if their child needs extra help!

5. Contact a Speech and Language Therapist for advice and / or assessment.

Article provided by Ade Byrne, Private Speech & Language Therapist
Ade is a fully qualified Speech and Language Therapist with current membership of the Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists (IASLT). Ade graduated from University College Dublin with a Bachelor Degree in Social Science in 2001. In addition she received a Master’s Degree in Speech and Language Therapy from the University of Limerick in 2005. Over the course of her professional education, Ade has gained a substantial amount of experience working with paediatrics with varying communication difficulties.

If you would like a free telephone consultation or are looking for an appointment you can contact Ade on 0868602485 or by email at


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