Many of us are familiar with the typical ways that children speak, swapping out sounds to make words such as ‘lellow’ instead of ‘yellow’ and ‘tar’ instead of ‘car’.
But when is it normal, and when is it time to see a speech pathologist?
Speech sound errors are quite common for young children as they navigate language learning and develop new sounds.
Children will often simplify the sounds in words to make it easier for them to say.
These errors are called phonological processes, and there are some that are typical for children and some that are atypical.
Will it Go Away by Itself?
Many speech sound errors will start to disappear naturally between the ages of 3 and 5. Typical errors include:
- Fronting– this is when sounds that are usually made at the back of the mouth (‘k’ and ‘g’) are replaced with front sounds (‘t’ and ‘k’). For example, a child may say ‘tar’ instead of ‘car’. This error should resolve by approximately 3.5 years of age.
- Cluster reduction– this is when one of the sounds in a consonant cluster is left off. For example, a child may say ‘nake’ instead of ‘snake’. This error should resolve by approximately 4 years of age.
- Gliding– This is when a ‘w’ or ‘y’ sound is used instead of ‘l’ or ‘r’. For example, a child may say ‘wed’ instead of ‘red’. This error should resolve by approximately 5 years of age.
Sometimes, these errors may persist for longer than expected.
This is referred to as a phonological delay and may require speech therapy intervention to resolve.
Some children substitute sounds that are unexpected at any age. These are called atypical errors and include:
- Backing– this is the opposite of ‘fronting’ and occurs when sounds that are usually made at the front of the mouth (‘t’ and ‘d’) are replaced with back sounds (‘k’ and ‘g’). For example, a child may say ‘koo’ instead of ‘two’. This is not typical at any age.
- Vowel errors– Some children may have vowel errors, for example ‘bord’ instead of ‘bird’. This is not typical at any age.
Atypical errors are unlikely to resolve naturally and will likely require speech pathology intervention.
When should I seek help?
A good way to decide whether you need to seek a speech pathology assessment is to think about what percentage of your child’s speech can be understood.
Parents should be able to understand about 50% of what their child is saying by the time they’re 2 years old, and about 75% of what they’re saying by the time they’re 3 years old (Lynch et al., 1980).
If you are finding it difficult to understand your child’s speech, or your child is showing any delayed or atypical speech substitutions, it is a good idea to seek a speech pathology assessment.
You might also seek assessment if your child is getting frustrated with their speech difficulties.
The speech pathologist can assess your child’s speech production to see if their sounds are age-appropriate and, if not, provide treatment to help with speech production.
If you’re concerned about your child’s language or speech, it’s valuable to have them assessed by a qualified speech-language pathologist. Call Box Hill Speech Pathology on 9899 5494 to make an appointment or enquire here on our website.
Bowen, C. (2011). Table 3: Elimination of Phonological Processes. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on 17/04/2023.
Bowen, C. (1998). Developmental phonological disorders. A practical guide for families and teachers. Melbourne: ACER Press.
Grunwell, P. (1997). Natural phonology. In M. Ball & R. Kent (Eds.), The new phonologies: Developments in clinical linguistics. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group, Inc.
Lynch, J.I., Brookshire, B.L., & Fox, D.R. (1980). A Parent – Child Cleft Palate Curriculum: Developing Speech and Language. Tigard, OR: CC Publications.