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). Here is a chart based on the findings from this study:
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.