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Which Speech Sounds Are Expected According To Age

Posted on
November 17, 2022
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It can be frustrating when your child is mispronouncing or not producing a sound consistently. It can be even more overwhelming as a parent when you or other listeners in the child’s life are having significant trouble understanding what they have to say. There are many speech milestones that exist with different ranges for acquiring specific speech sounds. This can often confuse parents as they remain unsure if it is time to target a sound. This is why numerous factors need to be considered while also thinking about specific speech sounds.

The first thing that a parent needs to be aware of is “can I understand what my child is saying and how much can I understand?” This is usually referenced as the child’s intelligibility, or ability to be understood by others. Generally, the more speech sound errors that exist, the more likely that intelligibility will be reduced. Below you can find the 4 expectations of intelligibility for children, as explained by Caroline Bowens.

4 expectations of intelligibility for children:
  • By 18 months a child's speech is normally 25% intelligible
  • By 24 months a child's speech is normally 50 -75% intelligible
  • By 36 months a child's speech is normally 75-100% intelligible
  • By 48 months a child’s speech is 100% intelligible

practicing speech sounds
Practicing speech sounds with your child.

P and B Sounds:

The bilabial (using both lips) sounds are first to emerge and you will notice them in babbling when the child will start saying “papa” and “baba”. These sounds require air to be released as a burst while rounding the lips. So if a child has weakness in their lips or uses the nose instead of mouth on oral or non-nasal sounds (hypernasality), these sounds will present as challenging.

Below is a list of when individual sounds or phonemes should be mastered by. It's important to remember that this is just a reference point as a list and many other lists of speech acquisition will have ranges that differ. Some sounds take longer for some than for others to acquire, which is why a holistic and dynamic assessment needs to be used when examining these sounds.

Speech sounds by years:

Age by which 75% of
children used the speech
sound listed accurately.
Speech sounds
3 years h as in he

zh as in measure
y as in yes
w as in we
ng as in sing
m as in me
n as in no
p as in up
k as in car
t as in to
b as in be
g as in go
d as in do
3.5 years f as in if
4 years l as in lay
sh as in she
ch as in chew
4.5 years j as in jaw
s as in so
z as in is
5 years r as in red
6 years v as in Vegemite
8 years th as in this
8.5 years th as in thing

General things to consider when concerned about your child’s speech sound acquisition:

  • Is intelligibility significantly reduced?
  • Does your child have the ability yet to correspond letters to sounds? If they can’t identify the letter for the sound in the alphabet, they will more likely struggle saying that sound.
  • Can your child say the target sound if you model how to say it for them?
  • Is your child not saying the sound at all or are they mispronouncing it?
  • Is your child producing the SAME sound errors that correlate to the same speech sound?
  • Have you noticed any weaknesses in your child’s tongue, lips or jaw? This may be observed when the child is chewing and trying to swallow - difficulties with articulators/mouth may be manifested during this activity. Additionally, has your child been to a dentist recently that either extracted teeth or performed a procedure that affected the mouth?

Specific things to consider when worried about your child’s speech sound acquisition:

  • Consonant blends also known as consonant clusters (two consonants together; such as /bl/) will always be more difficult for your child to produce.
  • The r sound! So many parents are concerned with their child’s pronunciation of /r/. Be mindful that this may take longer than you would like it to, to fully acquire as /r/ is not only a sound that stands alone, but is found in many contexts: or, ar, ir, eer, ire…. And the list goes on!
  • Interdental or lateral lisps (tongue sticking out on the /s/ sound) can be impacted by objects placed in the mouth (i.e. braces) or missing teeth. Is the child sucking their thumb or used a pacifier before?
  • Multisyllabic words will be more difficult to produce. So see if your child can say a sound in a one syllable word.

If after reviewing this and you are concerned with your child’s speech sound acquisition, you can book an appointment with a speech and language professional for an assessment. At noala, we offer a free 10 minute discovery call with a speech professional for support and also conduct these assessments to determine if speech and language is warranted. 

We're here to support you and your child.

Sharon Baum
Clinical Director, United States and M.A. CCC-SLP