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What You Need To Know: Speech Development

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

What is typical speech development? Children begin to use certain speech sounds at particular ages. Like all developmental milestones, it is important for parents to have an understanding of typical speech development. That is, the age when the majority of English speaking children have mastered specific speech sounds.

Speech sounds are sometimes grouped as the "Early, Middle, and Late 8 Sounds."

Early 8: By age 3 your child should be able to say the sounds /m/ as in mama, /b/ as in baby, "y" as in you, /w/ as in water, /n/ as in no, /d/ as in daddy, /p/ as in pop, and /h/ as in hi

Middle 8: By age 5 1/2 your child should be able to say the sounds /k/ as in cup, /g/ as in go, /t/ as in two, /f/ as in fish, /v/ as in van, "ch" as in chew, "ng" as in jumping, and "j" as in juice

Late 8: By age 7 your child should be able to say the sounds /l/ as in lion, /r/ as in ring, /s/ as in sand, "th" as in think and the, /z/ as in zebra, "sh" as in shoe, and "zh" as in measure

Having an understanding of typical speech (articulation) development can help parents have realistic expectations for their child's speech. For example I think it is helpful for parents to know that the /s/ and the /r/ sounds are not typically mastered by the majority of children until the age of . It is true that some children may start correctly producing these sounds as early as 3 or 4 years old, but if a parent comes to me and tells me that their 3 year old can't say their /r/ sound, I'm not too worried.

We can also think about speech development in terms of "speech intelligibility" The term intelligibility refers to "speech clarity" or the percentage of speech that a listener can readily understand. In typical development, as children learn to talk, their ability to be easily understood to those around them steadily increases. A key characteristic of children with speech sound disorders or delays is that they are often significantly less intelligible than non-speech-impaired children of the same age.

A handy formula suggested by Dr Peter Flipsen Jr (here; see also Flipsen, 2006) and others is used by some speech-language pathologists as a guide to the expected conversational intelligibility levels of preschoolers talking to unfamiliar listeners, or "strangers". The formula fits well with the suggestions of Coplan & Gleason (1988) and is:

AGE IN YEARS / 4 x 100 = % UNDERSTOOD BY STRANGERS Child aged 1;0 = 1/4 or 25% intelligible to strangers Child aged 2;0 = 2/4 or 50% intelligible to strangers Child aged 3;0 = 3/4 or 75% intelligible to strangers Child aged 4;0 = 4/4 or 100% intelligible to strangers

Use the "Early, Middle, and Late 8 Sounds" and speech intelligibility as a guide when you look at your child's speech sound (articulation) development to determine if their sounds are developmentally appropriate. If your child is demonstrating frustration related to speech and/or seems to shutdown when he or she is not easily understood by adults or peers, contact a speech-language pathologist to see if an evaluation is appropriate. A speech-language pathologists can offer a comprehensive evaluation to assess whether your child’s speech errors are age-appropriate or whether he or she may benefit from speech therapy to improve articulation. See this related post on how you can facilitate your child's speech sound development at home!


Adapted from Shriberg’s Order of Speech-Sound Acquisition

Bowen, C. (2011). Table1: Intelligibility. Retrieved from on 02/07/2021


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