Sound Deadlines (Speech Question 5 of 7)

Dorothy Dougherty, MA, provides speech therapy for children just learning to speak, and she is the author of How to Talk to Your Baby. In this series, she answers the questions that new parents most frequently ask her.

When should my child say all sounds correctly?

Saying words clearly and correctly is easy for some young children. However, others need a lot of practice before they are able to say all of the sounds of their language correctly. Many times, your child’s pronunciation of sounds is endearing and not a cause for concern. However, since the age at which a child masters all speech sounds may vary as much as two to three years, parents often ask: "Is this a stage? "Will he outgrow it?" "When should I seek professional help?"

It is important to keep in mind that speech is not the same as language. A child with a language delay may be able to say all speech sounds clearly, but doesn’t say many words or doesn’t understand what others say to him. A child with a speech problem may understand words and phrases, and use them to talk, but has trouble saying the sounds of these words correctly. Sometimes, because people have difficulty understanding him, they may assume that he knows less then he does.

As children mature physically, they learn to move their mouth, tongue, lips, and hard and soft palate in the correct way to form syllables and words. Generally, 74% of children are able to make all the sounds correctly by the age of 4 years, 6 months. However, some children learn speech sounds gradually, and in a sequence that begins at birth and may continue through the seventh year of life. Usually, children learn to use the following sounds 75% of the time correctly in conversation by the ages indicated: p, m, b, k, d, w, and y as early as 3 years; f at 3 years, 6 months, and sh and ch at 4 years old age. However, other sounds like r, s, l, and the consonantal blends may not be mastered until age 7 or 8. If your child is 18 months old, you should expect at least 25% of his words to be understandable, as compared to 50 –75% of what a two-year-old says. Although your three-year-old child may have sound errors, experts will agree that 75 –100% of what he says should be understandable to people outside the home.

Your child learns to talk by listening to your talk. Speak clearly, naturally, and most of all, correctly. Modeling the correct way to speak will help your child learn the correct way to speak. If you suspect your child has an ear infection, call your physician immediately. Even a temporary mild hearing loss from an ear infection can slow a child's ability to understand words, and thus, say sounds correctly.

As most children mature, their overall speech patterns usually become more understandable. However, some children need speech therapy. Therefore, if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s speech development, it is wise to see a speech/language pathologist for a speech evaluation. This will certainly put your mind at ease if you learn your child is progressing at an acceptable rate or get him the needed help early.

Question #1 -- Early Communication

Question #2 -- Learning the Meaning of Words

Question #3 -- Growing Up Bilingual

Question #4 -- Stuttering

Question #6 -- When Should I Be Concerned?

Question #7 -- Professional Speech Therapy