Toddler Speech Info:
Talking With Toddlers
DEVELOPMENT OF SPEECH SOUNDS (ARTICULATION)
(what you can do to help)
Articulation is a word that refers to the way you position your lips and tongue against
you teeth and the roof of your mouth to make the various sounds that go together form
words. Like every other motor movement your child has to learn to make these various
movements coordinate them with his voice and put them together in combinations that will
be understood as words.
- It is very common to hear parents of young children say things like:
- “I tell him how to say that word over and over but he still says it wrong. After a
while he just walks away.”
- “I know he can say that word correctly, he just doesn’t want to.”
- “If I make him say that word he will but he won’t do it on his own.”
The reason parents say things like that is because they do not have information they
need about sound development in order to help their children learn the complex task of
forming various speech sounds.
Speech (the “mechanics” of communication) is by far the most complex motor task that a
human being learns in his lifetime. Speech is a series of motor movements, chained
together at a very rapid rate. Say a simple word such as the word “cracker”. That word
is a series of 5 separate speech sounds put together (c-r-a-ck-r) that means a small flat
bread-like food that children often ask for. However, I guarantee that the child will want
that type of food long before he can correctly produce those 5 speech sounds in the correct
sequence to “articulate” the word “cracker”. Over time, however, after hearing the word
many, many times, he will try to match his production of the word to the way others
around him say the word and he will eventually say the word correctly.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF SPEECH SOUNDS (ALSO KNOWN AS ARTICULATION
In learning the various speech sounds there are easy sounds to produce and there are
sounds that are very difficult to learn. Unfortunately parents to not always know which
ones are which. I could give you charts sound by sound and the various ages at which
those sounds are mastered, however, you don’t need that kind of information to begin to
facilitate speech sound learning in your child. Just keep in mind that articulation development
takes a long time (some sounds are not mastered until 8 years old by some charts) and
your child will figure it out. If there are some sounds that he has not mastered, he will be
screened by a Speech/Language Pathologist when he starts school and if necessary therapy
will be recommended at that time.
Easy sounds are sounds which do not involve a lot of movement of the lips and tongue
against the teeth and roof of the mouth (palate) in order to make them. They are:
b, p, m, n, w, t, d, and h
Harder sounds involve more complicated movements within the mouth. They require
more exact positioning of lips and tongue against the teeth and palate that may be difficult
for a child to learn to do correctly and rapidly. As the child gets older, he will get better
but the skill develops slowly over months and sometime years rather than days or week.
Hard sounds include:
c or k, g, f, s, sh
v, th (in this, or three), zh ( as in treasure and garage) ch, j, r, and consonants spoken
together such as str, tr, dr, br, sq, st, sw
COMMON ERRORS CHILDREN MAKE
Children will often simplify sounds and use easy sounds in place of harder ones. You
may hear “tat” for cat, “doe” for go, “pish” for fish, “tootie” for cookie and “dump for jump>,
“two” for shoe, or “twee” for three.
Children will often simplify consonant blends, or use easier sounds in place of harder ones
in blends. You may hear “tweet” for street, “turs” for church, “twaw” for straw, “twee” for
three or tree, “bing” for bring, “bed” for bread, “tweet” for street and so on.
WHAT TO DO
Babies begin to make sounds almost from the beginning. They cry and cry differently,
they make sounds accidentally when they breath out or move around. Then they figure out
that they can make sounds purposefully and make them just to “play” . This is called
First they babble single syllables (ba-ba) then string the same sound together many times
(ba-ba-ba-ba). They make another sound and try it out together with the first one (ba-da-
daba) and then add a few others.
The babbling turns into what is known as “jargon” where he sounds exactly like he’s
carrying on a conversation with someone. You try to figure out what he’s saying but you
can’t make it out. He has learned the melody pattern of speech and has enough sounds to
“try it out”. He’s not really talking, just practicing. During this whole period you can play
sound games with your baby.
- Make his sounds back to him.
- Make some new ones and see what he does., Respond to his babbling and jargon as
if he were telling you something.
- Try to get him to imitate what you do and go “back and forth” with the game.
These activities will give your baby a good foundation for the more difficult
task of matching what he is saying to what you are saying to form words.
When your child has some first words then you can move from sounds to words in
your games. When you are trying to teach him new words and sounds, you need some
First of all, what not to do:
Do not try to make your child say words that they are having trouble with. There may
be sounds in the word that are to difficult for him to make. If you try to get your child to
make sounds before he is ready it will only lead to frustration for both you and your child.
He may even stop saying a word because he has been corrected too many times.
What to do:
Follow a practice of “reflecting” back the correct pronunciation with no pressure to say it
correctly. Something like this:
- Your child says, “mommy, tootie”. You say something like this: “oh, you want a
COOKIE, yes, you can have a COOKIE, here’s your COOKIE”.
It is not necessary to tell him that he made an incorrect sound. Just hearing you make it
correctly is enough to help him match his sound to yours.
There may be some words that you don’t understand readily. When you figure out what
he’s saying you can make a point of “finally getting” it and take an opportunity to give the
correct pronunciation. Something like this:
- You say something like…”tell me again I didn’t hear you right.”
- “Can you show me?” He takes you to the fridge; you open it and he points to an apple.
- You can say excitedly, “Oh, APPLE, you want an APPLE”.
Not only does this give him an opportunity to hear the word correctly, it helps him to begin
to understand that he needs to match the way you say words if he wants to be understood.
Sounds may be heard in some words and not others or heard in the beginning of words
but not when it comes in the middle or end of a word. “Why can’t he say the sound
wherever it is? …After all , he knows how to say it.” This is a question and comment I have
The answer is simple. Your child needs practice in chaining sounds together and
noticing that the sounds he is learning have to be made in several places in words not just
at the beginning. It takes a while for sounds to become “automatic” so he doesn’t have to
think about making them. Again….in time, with some good “models” (examples) from you he
will figure it out.
There is no need to set aside special times for practicing speech sounds. Just the
normal conversations and interactions throughout the day are enough. You can however,
think of games, stories, or even videos (my last choice) that highlight particular sounds. A
fun and enjoyable activity will help him notice speech sounds and how they go together..
A word about “speech toys”…. I personally have never recommended toys that talk or
teach speech sounds. First of all the sound on those toys is usually somewhat distorted.
Secondly, they do not provide enough information to children to help him notice and make
When you talk there are visual cues that children pay attention to to help them learn the
sound. Many sounds have the same “frequency” components and sound very much alike (tin
and pin). A child needs to “see” how the sound is made as well as hear how the sound is
made in order to learn it. Speech toys simply do not provide that information.
Your child will benefit in so many other ways by having you sit with him and “play with
sounds, words and letters”. It’s fun, your child enjoys your attention, he gets positive
feedback during play to name a few “positives”.
FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS
If your child has been identified as a child who has special needs the learning of speech
sounds can be more difficult and take longer.
If your child has special needs it would be wise to consult a Speech/Language Pathologist
for particular suggestions for you and he to work on together. I would encourage you to
find someone who involves you in the therapy process and give you good suggestions to use
when your child is not in “therapy”. A Speech/Language Pathologist who treats your child
alone in a therapy room or at school with no contact with you is not who you are looking
for. You need to work closely with a Speech/Language Pathologist who can give you
positive strategies that both of you use together.
Children will progress at different rates and learn different sounds sooner or later than
their peers. Resist comparing your child to his siblings, cousins or the children of your
friends and neighbors.
Girls generally are better at speech and language learning than boys but it is not a hard
fast rule. Some children will start out almost perfectly while others take a while. Is he
making progress over time? That is the important question to ask.
If your child does not change over time, if he makes unusual sound substitutions or says
only a few sounds to cover a variety of words and situations it would be wise to seek out
a professional for a complete assessment.
Some researchers in the field of physical therapy report that it takes 2,000 repetitions of
a motor movement to incorporate a new movement into your repertoire. Think of how
long you practiced something like piano, a band instrument, dancing, a golf swing, tennis,
singing on key, marching in the band, casting a fishing line just to name a few activities
and you can appreciate what your child is doing to learn to master his speech sounds.
Patience and persistence (and fun activities) will make the process go smoothly.