Articulation Development: What’s normal? {& What Isn’t}

Welcome! As an SLP I am asked all the time about articulation development. Should my 4 year old be saying his /r/ yet? Is it normal for my 3 year old to say “lellow?” Today I am going to talk all about your child’s articulation development and go over what is normal and what isn’t.

When do children begin to develop their articulation and phonological (aka speech) skills?

Believe it or not, children begin to develop these skills starting at BIRTH! I know I know, babies are not born talking…but they are born listening and listening is the first step in learning how to produce speech sounds, which in turn will turn into meaningful words, phrases and sentences! If I remember correctly (I’ll go find the study and link it back here) children learn the sounds of their native language by NINE MONTHS OF AGE! This doesn’t mean they are producing the sounds…it means they have already learned the sounds receptively and are starting to get them all organized in their amazing tiny little brains so that when their motor skills are developed enough, they can begin producing them. Honestly, it is pretty fascinating what BABIES are taking in those first few months of life when seem like boring little sloths ;)

What is “normal” articulation development? When should my child have mastered the production of all the speech sounds?

There have been many studies on this and as a result, there are actually several different sets of  “speech sound acquisition norms” (go ahead and Google….you will find MANY different charts out there!) Some of the most well known studies include Sander (1972), Prather, Hedrick, & Kern (1975), Templin (1957), Smit et al. (1990) and Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation (2000). Each of the studies had slightly different results, which really just tells us that there can be a pretty wide range of “normal” in regards to when your child will master the production of the different sounds, and that we don’t really know for sure when sounds should be 100% mastered. That said, these sets of norms can be helpful to decide if a child will need speech therapy to correct a sound.

Here is a chart I created based on the following six studies on speech sound acquisition:  Wellman et al. (1931), Poole (1934) Templin (1957), Sander (1972) Prather et al. (1973) and Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation 2, GFTA-2, (2000).

Here is the most widely used set of norms used by SLP’s in the US, based on the research paper by Sander 1972.

One thing we do know, is that there is not a strict developmental hierarchy, per say, when it comes to the individual sounds. What I mean is…that all kids don’t necessarily earn the /p/ and then the /m/ and then the /h/. The order in which a child can learn to produce the different sounds in English can vary. However, some researchers including Shriberg (1993), did find that there is somewhat of a developmental sequence to when children master speech sound productions. He referred to them as the Early 8, Middle 8 and Late 8 (EML).

Early 8- m, b, y, n, w, d, p, h

Middle 8- t, k. g, ng, f, v, ch, j

Late 8- sh, s, z, l, r, th (voiced and voiceless)

As you can see, if your child is say… two or three years old.. we wouldn’t expect him to be able to accurately produce the /r/ sound, for example. Usually, children produce the /w/ for the /r/ as in “wabbit” for rabbit or “gween” for green when they are toddlers and preschoolers. For an /r/ at the end of the word, a young child may simply leave the sound off like “ca” for car or he may attempt to produce it but the the sound is a little distorted.

These types of age appropriate errors are referred to as developmental errors. This just means, they are normal, age appropriate errors and they do not require speech therapy. There is an exception to this rule, however, if the child’s errors are actually a result of a phonological delay rather than an articulation delay. I’ll be explaining this in my next post.

How can I tell if my child is developing his/her articulation skills appropriately?

Well, first I would encourage you to look at the charts on this post and see if your child is using most or all of the sounds he/she should be for his age. Also, here is a good general rule of thumb for how intelligible (i.e. how much of his/her speech you understand) your child should be at the following ages. It is the child’s age in years divided by 4 (Reference:  Coplan, J., & Gleason, J. R. (1988). Unclear speech: Recognition and significance of unintelligible speech in preschool children. Pediatrics, 82, 447–452.)

2 years old = 2/4 or 50%
3 years old = 3/4 or 75%
4 years old = 4/4 or 100%

Another thing to remember: A child, as he/she is learning to speak, will have errors in his/her speech. We expect it, and most kids will go on to learn how to accurately produce all the sounds. However, if a child has MANY ERRORS and cannot be understood, especially after the third birthday…it may be a good idea to have your child seen by an SLP.

However if you have ANY concerns at all….I encourage you to have your child screened by a speech-language pathologist. Check out the information HERE discussing when you may want to refer to an SLP and check out the info HERE on how to find an SLP.

Next up…speech development isn’t just about articulation. It is also about phonology, or the patterns in which our children learn how to use speech. You can read all about phonology HERE.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.

About Katie

Katie is a licensed, credentialed and certified pediatric speech-language pathologist and mom to three (5, 3 and 9 months). Her passion about educating, inspiring and empowering parents of children with all abilities led her to start her blog Playing With Words 365 where she shares information about speech and language development, therapy ideas and tips, intervention strategies and a little about her family life too. Katie has been working in the field of speech pathology for 9 years and is certified in The Hanen Centre’s It Takes Two to Talk ® and Target Word ® programs and holds a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In addition to blogging and being a mommy, Katie works part time in her small private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. Michelle Downs says:

    This is such great information!! Thanks again!

  2. Michelle you are so welcome! :)

  3. I would like a copy (pdf or doc) of your articulation and phonological processing charts. Would you please send them to me?

  4. Thank you!! Great information to save and reference as I’m working with my kids.

  5. My daughter is 7 about the be 8 we live in the south but she sounds like she is from the Jersey Shore do you like that is normal or should it be looked at

  6. What a lot of useful information! I shared this post on my Facebook page as part of the KBN shout out. Such a great resource you are to parents!

  7. So very helpful! Already shared some info from your site but there is so many helpful posts…I’m back for more! Thanks!
    Laura M recently posted..Spoiler Alert! Father’s Day Gifts (A Story of Trial and Error)My Profile

  8. Stephanie T. says:

    Very nicely stated! I normally use the “commonly” known bar-chart, which I feel needs more explaining. I like your summary chart that lists the ages.

  9. Katie, thank you so much for putting this article together. It’s so helpful to parents, like me, who don’t know whether their worries about their kids’ speech are simply a symptom of helicopter parenting! I linked to your article last night on a post on my recent relief on finding out that my 7-year-olds don’t need to return to speech therapy to work on the their /r/s. I’m definitely going to be coming back to check out the rest of your site. If you ever feel like guest posting on the multiples site I write for, we’d love to have you! Speech issues are so common among twins, triplets and more and we parents often feel out of our depth in seeking help.
    Sadia recently posted..Speech Re-Evaluation: All Is Well!My Profile

    • Hi Sadia, I love hearing that my information is helping others! Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know you linked up, I’ll be sure to head over and check out your blog! :)

  10. Thank you for sharing this. I was wondering about a child learning another language. Right now we live overseas and my daughter (will be 5 in January) is in national school where she is learning arabic. Will her English pronunciation have any delays or differences? What should I expect? Thanks again and I will share with friends.

  11. Could you please explain the /ng/ sound? Is it an initial sound or just an ending sound as in song?
    Thank you!

  12. This article is quite reassuring. My son just turned 22 months on March 27th, and his old daycare teacher use to try and tell me how I should keep an eye out on his speech because he doesn’t repeat words exactly how they’re suppose to be pronounced. She started telling me this when he about 18 months old. He says PLENTY of words, but of course he’s missing some letters sometimes. For instance, his version of “truck” is “kuck.” She really got all concerned because for the word “stop” he literally says it backwards…”pots.” It’s quite hilarious because he does the hand motion and stomps his foot down and says “POTS!” Because she said it more than once, I started to let worry set in which is how I ended up on your blog today. But looking at the chart you provided I feel more than reassured. He’s got the “Early 8’s” down I believe! And maybe one or so of the “Middle 8’s.” Thanks so much for sharing this information!

  13. Merrilee Wahl says:

    Hi Katie,
    I am a SLP in Salt Lake City and love your website and materials! I especially enjoyed using the activities with “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Clover”. My students loved them! Can’t Wait to use your Easter ideas with the “…Swallowed a Chick” book. THANK YOU so much for sharing them!
    Merrilee

  14. The EarlyMiddleLate8Chart has a mistake (typo) in it — where it says /r/ in the Early 8, that should be /n/.

  15. Thank you so much for this information. My daughter is three and can NOT say her “L” sound…when she says her name, Stella, it sounds like “stewa”. I have been very concerned about it but with this page I can now see that she has more time to develop her “L” before I become overly concerned. Thanks again!

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  1. [...] Articulation Development: What’s Normal & What-Isn’t Overview of Articulation and Related Disorders Phonological Processes and Phonological Delay What is Childhood Apraxia of Speech What is Dysarthria What is a Lisp Speech Sounds Explained Speech and Language Development: Birth to 12 months The Importance of Pointing What is the Difference Between Speech and Language [...]

  2. […] and how it compares to a typical kid’s, Katie over at Playing with Words 365 has written a clear and complete article describing the range of typical articulation development in English-speaking […]

  3. […] of articulation skillshttp://www.playingwithwords365.com/2011/09/speech-articulation-development-whats-normal-what-isnt/ “Believe it or not, children begin to develop these skills starting at BIRTH! I know I know, […]

  4. […] to understand most of what your child says. If you’d like to check your child’s articulation, take a look at this great chart! This isn’t a substitute for having your child screened by a professional speech pathologist, but […]

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