Your Child’s Speech Development

As a speech pathologist, I see many children who have speech delays or unclear speech. There is a typical age at which each child should be able to say certain sounds. If children have trouble learning to say these sounds correctly by themselves, they may experience frustration, ridicule from peers, and a withdrawal from wanting to communicate. Moreover, if speech difficulties are not corrected by the time a child begins school, they may experience difficulties learning to read and spell.

Therapy to correct speech sounds can progress relatively quickly. Therapy involves moving up a hierarchy (from being able to hear the difference between the error sound and its correct production, to being able to say the sound correctly in everyday speech). The clarity of a child’s speech can improve fairly quickly if daily home practice is being done (approximately 10 minutes a day). In addition, choosing relevant goals can help increase the rate at which your child’s speech improves. Research shows that using a top-down approach (i.e. targeting the most difficult sounds for your child first), can result in faster gains in the clarity of your child’s speech. For this reason, it is important to consult a speech pathologist who is experienced in working with speech delays, and is up-to-date in their knowledge of the latest research.

If you are concerned about your child’s speech, it is best to take them to a speech pathologist for an assessment. This will let you know if their speech is developing within the expected range, or if they are presenting with a speech delay (also refer to the image “Typical Speech Development” for a guide on when your child should master certain sounds). It is best to receive advice earlier rather than later, to ensure your child has mastered age-appropriate sounds by the time they begin school. In addition to consulting with a speech pathologist, the following tips can help improve your child’s speech development.


• When you hear your child say a word incorrectly, question them about what they said. This will teach them to listen to and think about their own speech, and create an awareness of the sound error (for example, if a child says pish for “fish”. Say, “Is it pish or fish?”. Always say the correct pronunciation last).

• When a child makes a sound error, say the word correctly many times in the following minute, to act as a good example for your child (for example, if a child says pish for “fish”. “Yes, it is a fish… the fish is blue.. the fish is swimming in the water.. it’s a fast fish…”).

• Give your child specific feedback about what they are saying. For example, “oh oh, I heard pish, I think you meant “fish”. You forgot to keep the air flowing… ffffffish”. If they say the sound correctly, say “well done, you said a great /f/ sound… you remembered to keep the air flowing”.

• Use a mirror to show the child what to do with their lips and tongue to make the sound. Get them to watch your mouth closely and copy you.

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