Speech Development


We recently had some great questions on instagram about speech and language development. Our expert Speech Pathologist Yasemin has years of experience in this area, and has some great content to share with you below about the development of speech, and also some specific answers to your questions.

A child’s speech development starts with their first sounds, usually in the form of vowels that sound like sweet coos. From the age of approximately 1 up to 7, they go through the process of acquiring new sounds and learning how to apply them. They are learning the adult rules that form our unique speech sound system. Despite there being only 26 letters in the English language, there are actually 44 phonemes (sounds) and a unique set of rules determine how they can be put together to form words.

We know that as part of normal speech sound development, patterns of error will be quite typical until a certain age and as they start to get a handle on the adult rules, those errors will start to resolve. The patterns of error in the Speech Pathology world are called 'phonological processes’. The chart below shows the names of some of the most common processes (errors), an explanation of what is typically heard and the age at which it will be resolved in 80% of children.

 Elimination of Phonological Processes in Typical Development
Phonological processes are typically gone by these ages (in years; months)
Pre-vocalic voicing pig = big


Word-final de-voicing pig = pick


Final consonant deletion comb = coe


Fronting car = tar
ship = sip


Consonant harmony mine = mime
kittycat = tittytat


Weak syllable deletion elephant = efant
potato = tato
television =tevision
banana = nana


Cluster reduction

spoon = poon
train = chain
clean = keen


Gliding of liquids

run = one
leg = weg
leg = yeg


Stopping /f/ fish = tish


Stopping /s/ soap = dope


Stopping /v/ very = berry


Stopping /z/ zoo = doo


Stopping 'sh' shop = dop


Stopping 'j' jump = dump


Stopping 'ch' chair = tare


Stopping voiceless 'th' thing = ting


Stopping voiced 'th' them = dem


Without a full analysis of a child’s speech, the best way to determine if there are difficulties is their level of overall intelligibility with familiar and unfamiliar listeners. How well can you understand them, and how well can strangers understand them?

A 2 years of age, a child’s speech will be full of the errors (normal deviations!) listed below and they will be for the most part SUPER cute! Something along the lines of “too too tai” for 'Choo Choo train' or “me ti dada” for 'I kissed dad'. They will generally be speaking in short sentences so overall their intelligibility at conversation level will be 50% intelligible to strangers. Some red flags at this age include a limited range of words and sounds, words that sound predominantly like vowels and difficulty imitating words and sounds.

At 3 years of age, rapid developments happen in their speech sound system and a number of processes begin to resolve. At this age you should be starting to see more advanced language and overall their intelligibility at conversation level will be around 75% to strangers. Words will start to have a beginning and and end and the errors for each word will be reduced, making them sound more like the adult form. For example, “I dot a poon fom de kitten” (I got a spoon from the kitchen) OR “see pussed me over” (she pushed me over). Don’t forget there is large variation here but generally speaking, an unfamiliar listener should be getting a handle on most of what they say, especially with the context available.

The greatest amount of change happens between the ages 3-4 and by 4, a child should be 100% intelligible to familiar AND unfamiliar listeners. There will of course still be a few small deviations to the adult form like ‘wabbit’ for rabbit and 'some-fing’ for something but most conversations should be getting quite lengthy and they should be starting to sound like little adults! 

As a guide, a child with an intelligibility of less than 66% to unfamiliar listeners at the age of 4 is most definitely a candidate for intervention and most certainly should be taken to a Speech Pathologist much sooner if possible. 

A quick word on lisps - there are a number of different types of lisps, some of which are part of typical development and others that are not. Typically a child will have a cute interdental lisp, which is characterised by the tongue poking out between the front two teeth on the sounds s and z and this will  resolve by the age of approximately 4. Anything that seems more than just a cute little poke of the tongue should be looked at - including a a tongue that appears to be visible all the time, a child who is a messy eater, a tongue that appears to protrude on several sounds and also speech that sounds slushy and wet.

Parents and others will say “it’ll come” or “they’ll grow out of it” BUT the main reason for seeking advice/help is not that the child is a little hard to understand, but that this is a crucial stage in development to build the prerequisite skills that will form the foundations of their reading and spelling. A solid speech sound system is crucial for literacy development and even subtle difficulties can be a risk for ongoing literacy and learning difficulties. 

So what can you do to help your child along their speech development journey? Spending the time to ensure they are tuning into words, the sounds within them and paying attention to rhyme is a great place to start. Having a really good ‘ear’ for sounds and how they operate within words will set your child up for a much easier journey to acquire great reading and spelling skills. The main aim here is to set up your little ones for later success as competent readers, writers and communicators.

So there you have it, a few bits of information to help you determine where your little one is at and why they do what they do! Now, to specifically answer your great instagram questions.

My child makes errors is his/her pronunciation and when corrected can say those words correctly but then continue to use the incorrect form?

This tells us that the child has acquired those ‘sounds’ and can make them but he/she hasn’t yet understood the adult rule and how the change in sound impacts the meaning. When they use the incorrect word, say - “do you mean ________(insert correct word)?” - to show them a change is required, and what they said was not the same.

What can I do to stimulate my child’s speech after grommets have been inserted? 

The best and most general advice would be;
  • Speak to your child a lot - make lots of comments and repeat things often 
  • Get face to face so they can see your mouth 
  • Avoid background noise when conversing i.e turn the T.V. off! 
  • When reading books, also try and sit face to face and turn off any background noise
  • See a Speech Pathologist if you feel they are struggling or you need some advice!


Bowen, C. (2011). Table 3: Elimination of Phonological Processes. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on [09/03/18]

Bowen, C. (2011). Table1: Intelligibility. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on [09/03/18]


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