In this post, we're discussing how to help your toddler or preschooler learn speech sounds in order to speak more clearly.
In our previous article we talked about how different sounds develop at different ages, with easy ones like /b/, /p/, and /m/ developing early, and more difficult sounds like /th/, /r/, and /j/ developing 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), this chart covers what sounds most English-speaking children should be able to pronounce based on their age:
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
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, you can try focusing on words that are functional. So if they're having trouble with the /f/ sound, focus on saying words like "fall" and "foot" with your child.
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?"
Using 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 the intervention of 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.