It's very common for children to make speech errors involving the "CH" sound as they develop their language skills. After all, it can be one of the trickier sounds to learn and master.
However, there comes a time when your child should be able to pronounce "CH" words without any mistakes, with their speech being 100% intelligible. So how do you know if your child is experiencing a completely normal pattern as they grow their language abilities, or if they need some extra help?
In this article, we're going to cover everything you need to know about "CH," including the age they should be accurately pronouncing this sound, what correct "CH" production looks like, how to start practicing at home, when professional intervention may be warranted, and more.
When to Target the “CH” Sound
Children should begin correctly pronouncing the “CH” sound sometime between 3.5 - 7 years of age. With this sound in particular, there's a pretty large variance in age range.
With that said, it's important for parents and caregivers to recognize that the longer you wait to begin targeting a speech sound, the more difficult it can become to correct errors and improve your child's speech. This is because motor patterns (the mouth movements we use to produce sounds) become more ingrained as a child get's older. In other words, the longer a child gets used to mispronouncing a sound, the harder the habit is to break.
Here's a few rules of thumb you can follow when determining when to target and practice the "CH" sound with your child:
Is your child able to imitate a correct production of the "CH" sound? This means, if you pronounce an accurate "CH" sound, is your child able to repeat it back to you? If so, they are probably ready to begin targeting the sound.
If your child is not saying the “CH” sound correctly by the time they go to kindergarten, but is demonstrating readiness with this sound production, then go ahead and target it! We want children to say as many sounds correctly as possible when they first enter school. Suddenly, they're surrounded by new people - teachers and peers - and more likely to begin comparing their speech to others. If they feel that they're not easily understood, this could deflate their confidence and make them less likely to communicate. As you can imagine, having people constantly ask, "What did you say" or "Can you say that again?" can be extremely frustrating.
How to Correctly Produce the "CH" Sound
In order to produce a correct “CH” sound, the tongue, lips, and airflow all have to coordinate perfectly. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to say a perfect “CH”:
1 The tongue tip should point just slightly upwards so that it is resting at the alveolar ridge
2 The sides of the back of the tongue should be touching the inside of the top back molars
3 The lips should move into a rounded position
4 Blow air quickly and forcefully
If you read our previous post on the “SH” sound, you will notice that the “SH” and “CH” sounds are very similar. Many children who have trouble pronouncing one of these sounds will have trouble with the other.
Where to Start During Home Practice
When first beginning to practice the “CH” sounds with your child, make sure to start at the right difficulty level. If you start too far ahead of your child's current skill set, it won't make practice any easier and could contribute to their frustration. We want to see steady, incremental progress overtime on their path to mastering this sound.
Here are some easy and helpful activities you can do with your child to start practicing.
First, review all of the articulators (teeth, tongue, lips) used in the production of the "CH" sound. Ask your child where each articulator should be placed or positioned, and see if they respond correctly (or even demonstrate it themselves). You may want to practice in a mirror, as it will be easier for your child to visualize their mouth movements.
Your child needs to be able to identify the correct pronunciation of "CH" before they can master the sound themselves. Play a fun game where your child listens to you say the sound, both correctly and incorrectly, to see if they can spot the difference. Once they can do this with 100% accuracy, it's time to move on to actual productions of the sound.
Make sure to start by giving your child a model of what a correct"CH" should sound like. It'll be easier for them to imitate this sound on their own. Practice this until your child is able to repeat the sound after you with ease and accuracy. Overtime, you can fade your models as your child improves until they're able to say the sound independently.
How to Improve “CH” Sounds in Everyday Speech
In the section above, we reviewed how to help your child say the “CH” sound in isolation. As a next step, it's time to start practicing the "CH" sound when it's used in syllables, words, and day-to-day conversations. It will likely take some time for the “CH” to sound 100% accurate in your child’s speech. Fortunately, there are many helpful tips and techniques you can use to help get your child to this next step of their speech development.
After your child is saying the “CH” sound independently, you will want to then practice combining "CH" with syllables. These are often just made up syllables like, “Che,” “Chay," “Chie," “Cho," and “Chue.”
This helps get your child ready to practice “CH” in words, which comes after syllables. Start at single syllable words, like:
Then, move onto practicing two and three syllable words, like:
After your child has started saying "CH" words accurately, it's time to start using these words in two and three-word phrases. Overtime, increase phrase length until they're about to fully incorporate "CH" words into sentences and eventually conversations.
Progress often doesn't happen overnight, and it can take steady practice and persistence to get to the conversation level. It's vital to give your child the time and attention needed at each complexity level before moving onto the next one. You will know your child is ready when they're 90% accurate in each context.
How to Handle Any Frustration During Practice
Children are very aware when they struggle to pronounce sounds. It is likely your child may get annoyed or disheartened at some point while practicing. Make sure you provide a lot of praise and encouragement throughout practice.
While you shouldn't say, “Great job!” for incorrect productions (this can make the child confused and decrease their ability to self-correct) there are many ways to encourage your child while also providing appropriate feedback. Here are some examples you can use next time you practice with your child:
“I love how you’re trying! That’s not quite it. Let’s try again!”
“You are working so hard! Next time remember to round your lips.”
“You are so close! That’s not it, but I know you will get it soon.”
When your child does say a correct production, make sure you recognize and point out their tremendous progress. Give them a lot of praise and get really excited about it - they love seeing your reaction! As long as you keep practice positive and engaging, your child will be motivated to participate. This is how you put them on the path to pronouncing the perfect "CH" sound.