Ages and stages of children’s speech development

Becci Torode

/ Speech Pathologist

Even though children vary in their speech (articulation) development, by three years of age children’s speech should be 90% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener. If a parent is having difficulty understanding their child’s speech this is a strong indicator of the need for Speech Pathology assessment.

The acquisition of speech sounds follows a typical developmental pattern.

Toddlers one to three years

  • Most toddlers can say the sounds b,p,m,t,d,n,h,w at the beginning, middle and end of words
  • By three years of age many children can say the sounds k, g, ng, f, s
  • It is age appropriate for three year olds to still have difficulty with multi-syllabic words and words that contain sound blends such as ‘star’, ‘train’ and ‘play’.

Four year olds

  • By four year of age children can say most sounds correctly including s, z, sh, ch, f and l
  • Their ability to say sound blends should be developing at this age
  • It is age appropriate for four year olds to produce ‘s’ and ‘z’ interdentally (a lisp) however this pattern should correct by the age of five years.

Five to six year olds

  • The speech of kindergarten and school age children should be 95-100% intelligible to all listeners whether familiar or unfamiliar
  • Some sounds are later to develop and children may still experience difficulty with them: r and blends containing r e.g. ‘train’, ‘brush’ ‘scribble’
  • Five to six year olds may substitute ‘th’ with the sound ‘f’ (thumb → fum). This pattern should be resolved by seven years of age.

Some children’s speech development does not follow a typical pattern. Speech patterns that may be early indicators for concern and the need for Speech Pathology assessment are:

  • Vowel distortions e.g. “house” →”has” , “boat” → “bout”
  • Deleting sounds from the beginning or end of words e.g. “cat” → “ca”, “bus” → “us”
  • Inconsistent speech errors such as, saying the same word differently each time
  • A child experiencing frustration when trying to express their needs or ideas.

If there are any concerns regarding a child’s speech development and they appear not to be meeting the milestones outlined, a Speech Pathology assessment is recommended. A Speech Pathologist will be able to inform you whether your child’s speech development is age appropriate or whether therapy is required.

Jayne Dixon and Becci Torode, Speech Pathologists