Speech Sounds2 MINUTE READ

How to Work on Speech Sounds with Children Under 4 Years Old

In this article, we're discussing how to help your toddler or preschooler learn speech sounds in order to speak more clearly.

Different sounds develop at different ages. Easy sounds like /b/, /p/, and /m/ develop early, and more difficult sounds like /th/, /r/, and /j/ develop later. 

You might notice your young child struggling with certain sounds that are expected for their age. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), most English-speaking children can typically pronounce these sounds at these ages:

By 3 months:

  • Makes cooing sounds

By 5 months:

  • Laughs and makes playful sounds

By 6 months:

  • Makes speech-like babbling sounds like puh, ba, mi, da

By 1 year:

  • Babbles longer strings of sounds like mimi, upup, bababa

By 3 years:

  • Says m, n, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g, and f in words

  • People familiar with the child can understand their words

By 4 years:

  • Says y and v in words

  • May still make mistakes on the s, sh, ch, j, ng, th, z, l, and r sounds

  • Most people understand the child’s speech

Choosing the right words to work on with your toddler

If your child is struggling with a speech sound expected for their age, we can start supporting them early on. For kids who are having difficulty with their speech clarity, or articulation, you can try focusing on words that are functional, or that they're likely to use in regular communication. So if they're having trouble with the /f/ sound, focus on saying words like "full" and "foot" with your child. 

Speech sound strategy: Auditory bombardment

One strategy that speech-language pathologists commonly use is called auditory bombardment. It essentially means that when we have a sound we want to target, we use that sound a lot within a short period of time.

So again, if we were going to practice the /f/ sound, we might say, "The blocks are going to fall. They're falling down. Don't fall, blocks!" or "The little fish is swimming! What does the little fish want to eat? French fries?"

Speech sound strategy: Visual cues

When speech sounds are proving tricky, it can be helpful to add another clue to the puzzle. Visual cues are just that! Try to get your child's attention and have their eyes focus on your face. Seeing your mouth form the sound correctly will help them imitate the sound more accurately. Another idea is to bring an object near your face, like a toy, to get your child's attention. So, if you're working on the /b/ sound, try holding a ball near your face.

What if your child needs more help with their speech?

In some cases, children with speech sound disorders will need to work with a skilled speech-language pathologist. If you notice that other people have a hard time understanding your child, or you have other concerns about their speech, talk with your pediatrician and seek an evaluation from a speech therapist. 

You can also take our free online screener to learn if your child would benefit from a speech and language evaluation. This simple quiz is tailored to your child's birthdate and will give you fast, personalized results.

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