Language Play: Speech Articulation

Speech Articulation

If your child is not understood by teachers, peers or relatives, they may have multiple speech errors. To help your child speak with confidence, take time to support their expression by listening to them.

It’s holiday vacation time and family time! Hooray! This is a good time to check out our children’s communication skills. But how is a parent to know what is typical?

Children go through steps to learn to articulate speech sounds just like the steps children take to develop motor skills for learning to walk (crawling, standing, walking while holding on to furniture, taking steps independently) or learning to write cursive (practice, practice, practice). But some parents are unaware of the steps to expect with speech and the developmental time frames to see them emerge. In order to communicate with words, children start by listening. That’s why the first thing to check if you can’t understand a child is their hearing. It is especially important that children hear well in the first few years of life when they are listening to language so intensely. It is critical for children to not miss these listening opportunities in order to prevent speech and language delays.

If given good listening opportunities, our children go through a developmental process of learning placement and movements of the articulators (tongue, jaw, teeth, lips and palate) that take the air stream coming from the vocal folds and alter it to mimic the sounds they hear. — Monolingual babies at six months of age can differentiate the speech sounds of all languages but at a year old they can only discriminate the sounds that they hear in the environment of their families. Here is an interesting article about bilingual speech perception: “Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language.”

Most children begin speech using the sounds they can easily see on the lips of their family members such as “m” (mama), “p”(papa), “b” (baba), “w” (wawa). Other sounds may not be mastered until as late as age eight, such as “s” and “r.” Baby talk is fine for babies, but when English speech sound errors continue past age eight, it can affect both academics (speech productions are the basis for reading and writing words) and social interactions (peers may avoid children they don’t understand). If a child is aware that others can’t understand them, they may shut down and stop trying to express their ideas. Children who have these problems may not know that teachers can help them communicate and may feel helpless. Most articulation errors are not due to physical disabilities, but result from not learning correct production of speech sounds. These children benefit from explicit instruction on how to produce correct sounds; lots of practice of speech sounds in isolation, different positions in words, and phrases or sentences; and compensation strategies to increase listeners’ understanding.

Some suggestions to parents:

  • Set a good example modeling correct sounds in sentences several times after an error.
  • Don’t interrupt your child or constantly correct your child.
  • Don’t let anyone tease or mock your child.

If your child is not understood by teachers, peers or relatives, they may have multiple speech errors. If you suspect multiple errors, to, consider bringing them to a speech language pathologist (SLP) to find out if they would benefit from instruction and practice, or a home program under a SLP’s guidance.

Correcting speech production means changes in habits which require lots of practice and self-monitoring by a child, so children improve at their own rate. It is so wonderful to witness the increase in communication when children improve and notice that people finally understand them!

For a chart with information on speech sound timeframes, I recommend parents check out the Speech & Articulation Development Chart at Talking Child.

Let’s help our children speak with confidence. Take time to support their expression by listening to them during this holiday season.


Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at

[Photo credit: (ccl) Madhavi Kuram]

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