Updated: Jun 18
Speech refers to the actual sounds of spoken language. When toddlers are learning to speak, they are trying to coordinate all the different muscles of the lips, tongue, and jaw and it’s a complex process. Errors are to be expected. When an individual sound is produced incorrectly, it's called an articulation error. When a child exhibits a pattern of errors, for example, dropping off the final sound in words, this is called a "phonological process".
Let's take a look at some helpful charts that will help you determine if your child's speech is developing on track.
The following table indicates the ages at which consonant sounds are mastered.
Speech pathologists use special symbols for many of these sounds so they don’t always translate when written out for parents. “zh” refers to the middle sound in “measure”, “voiced th” refers to the “th” in “THe” versus the “voiceless th” in “THink”.
The following table illustrates the ages that children are able to say certain vowel sounds.
Again, vowel sounds are so tricky for me to make into a parent-friendly chart because it’s hard for me to spell out the subtle differences like the “ah” in hat vs “ah” in mom, but this is the best I could do. It also doesn’t include every single vowel sound. Depending on where you live, you may use vowels that I don't and vice versa.
The literature on vowel development tells us that the ability to perceive the differences between vowels and to produce them develops early . Most studies suggest that vowel production is reasonably accurate by age 3, although some studies call this into question. Production of individual vowels is generally mastered by 3 years; however production of vowels in multisyllabic words can take until age 6 (a multisyllabic word is a longer word with many syllables, for example "caterpillar")
Error Patterns (Phonological Processes)
The chart below illustrates some common phonological processes. Keep in mind, not all children will demonstrate these.
There's no need to correct these errors—your child can’t help it. Just model the correct production back to them. So when your child says “wawa” for water, don’t reinforce this by calling it “wawa” too—you say “Water”.
Intelligibility is the percentage of speech that is understandable. This does not mean accuracy (a child can make some errors and still be understood). There are no known valid norms available because there are too many variables involved, but a widely accepted guideline is your child’s age in years/4=% understood in conversation. So a 2 year old should be approximately 50% intelligible (2 years/4=50%).
Keep in mind, these numbers are referring to unfamiliar listeners. Parents and other close family members are typically able to understand their children better than unfamiliar listeners because they have become experts at translating what their children are trying to say.
Speech vs Language
While speech refers to the actual sounds of spoken language, language refers to the words we use and how we put them together.
Hope that was helpful :) If you're ready to help your baby or toddler talk, I can teach you how! Join me in my course, Raising Little Talkers and learn everything you need to know to get your child talking.
Bowen, C. (2011). Table1: Intelligibility. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on 6/4/20
Bowen, C. (2011). Table 3: Elimination of Phonological Processes. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/
Fabus, Renee & Gironda, Felicia. (2012). Assessment of Articulation and Phonological Disorders in Children. ® A Guide to Clinical Assessment and Professional Report Writing in Speech-Language Pathology.
J. E. Bernthal, N. W. Bankson & P. Flipsen Jnr (Eds.), Articulation and phonological disorders: Speech sound disorders in children (6th ed., pp. 63-120 + 385-405). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
McLeod, S. & Crowe, K. (2018). Children’s consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.