Frequently Asked Questions
- What sounds are easiest for a newborn baby to develop?
- At what age should I expect a child to achieve mastery of most speech sounds?
- When would speech therapy be warranted for articulation problems?
- How can I incorporate teaching language skills into hectic daily routines?
- How do I know whether a child is a true stutterer versus going through a period of normal dysfluency?
- When a child has tubes inserted in the ears because of frequent ear infections, does this have an effect on the child’s ability to develop articulation skills?
- Is a child growing up in a bilingual home at greater risk for language impairments?
- Do boys and girls develop language differently?
What sounds are easiest for a newborn baby to develop?
The sounds that are most easily acquired are those that are the most visible when spoken. These sounds include the bilabials (sounds produced with the lips) and include “p”, m”, “b”, and “w”. Less visible but produced earlier are the lingua-alveolars (such as “t”, “d”, and “n”) and glottal sounds “h”. Lingu-alveolar refers to the contact of the tongue against the alveolar ridge (behind the upper teeth), and glottal refers to the actual opening between the vocal cords at the laryngeal level (the glottis).
At what age should I expect a child to achieve mastery of most speech sounds?
Most children master all speech sounds by the age of eight, acquiring new sounds in a developmental sequence, with the easier sounds learned before the more difficult ones. The following are average age estimates of when consonant production occurs (Sanders, 1972).
Note: “r” and “s” sounds are not addressed until the 3`d grade and should not be a reason for speech therapy at the preschool age.
“m” age 1.5 to 3 years
“h” age 1.5 to 3 years
“n” age 1.5 to 3 years
“w” age 1.5 to 3 years
“b” age 1.5 to 4 years
“k” age 2.0 to 4 years
“g” age 2.0 to 4 years
“d” age 2.0 to 4 years
“t” age 2.0 to 6 years
“ng” age 2.0 to 6 years
“th” as in the word “thumb” – age 4.5 to 7 years
“th” as in the word “that” – age 5.0 to 8 years
“zh” as in the word “measure” – age 6.0 to 8.5 years
“y” age 2.5 to 4 years
“r” age 3.0 to 6 years
“l” age 3.0 to 6 years
“s” age 3.0 to 8 years
“ch” age 3.5 to 7 years
“sh” age 3.5 to 7 years
“z” age 3.5 to 8 years
“j” age 4.0 to 7 years
“v” age 4.0 to 8 years
When would speech therapy be warranted for articulation problems?
This depends on the age of the child and what sounds are in error. Check the developmental chart, but also consider these factors:
- Are there other physical or congenital factors involved? For example, does the child have cerebral palsy, or was he born with a cleft lip or palate? The status of the physical structure involved in articulation (the oral cavity, mouth, lips, tongue, and so on) and the neurological innervation to these structures is essential to development of articulation skills. If the child has a physical, neurological, or other impairment, early intervention is a must.
- How many of the child’s speech sounds are in error? The more sounds in error, the greater the likelihood that the child may need remediation. If the child is misarticulating one or two sounds versus five or six, this is a less serious problem.
- How intelligible is the child’s speech to either the familiar or unfamiliar listener? If those familiar with the child cannot understand what the child is saying, chances are that others who are unused to his speech will be equally confused. The more unintelligible the child’s speech is, the more likely the child will need professional assistance.
How can I incorporate teaching language skills into hectic daily routines?
The most effective way to fit language learning activities into daily routines is to learn about the naturally occurring interactions that the caregiver has with the child. View each of those interactions as opportunities for learning. In this way, you are using the existing and naturally occurring situations to expound on. The most essential thing to remember is that the learning situation should be natural and realistic, rather than contrived and artificial.
How do I know whether a child is a true stutterer versus going through a period of normal dysfluency?
Many factors influence whether a period of normal dysfluency will evolve into true stuttering. Many dysfluent and stuttering behaviors are similar. For example, the child may repeat individual sounds, words, phrases, or sentences in an attempt to speak. Or the child may engage in what are called prolongations (drawn out pronounciations of words: cat becomes caaaaaaaaat). These behaviors are typical of normal dysfluency but can also be the precursors of stuttering. Evidence or true stuttering occurs under the following conditions:
- The child does not appear to be outgrowing the problem after at least six months.
- The repetition and prolongation of words becomes more frequent and intense, with obvious blocks where the child appears to stop in midsentence with facial grimacing in an attempt to push words out.
- The child inserts the “schwa” or weakened vowel in to words. For example, a repetition such as “bay, bay, baby” becomes “buh, buh, baby”.
- The child experiences an increase in the number of secondary symptoms and behaviors. These might be facial grimacing, loss of eye contact, or excessive tension in the neck and facial area while attempting to speak.
- The child becomes afraid of speaking situations or actually avoids speaking opportunities such as using the telephone, asking for assistance in public places, speaking to authority figures and so on.
- The child has a family history, especially a parent with dysfluent speech. Research points to monitoring of these children to make sure they do not develop difficulties.
When a child has tubes inserted in the ears because of frequent ear infections, does this have an effect on the child’s ability to develop articulation skills?
Otitis media, or middle ear infection, can occur at any age, but primarily affects children from infancy up to the age of six. Whenever a child’s middle ears are full of fluid, the child will experience a conductive hearing loss ‑ a blockage in the transmission of sound waves to the inner ears, so that all noises and speech will sound muffled. As a result, the child may not be hearing much of what is said to him/her or the information that does get to the inner ear may be distorted or muffled. When this occurs, the child will model his speech patterns according to what he thinks he hears. A conductive hearing loss is generally temporary and alleviated once the fluid in removed. However, if a child learns a habitual pattern of substituting “th” for “s” or any other errors, he will have to relearn these articulation patterns. The errors won’t simply disappear when the fluid is removed. Note that simply because a child suffers from an occasional middle ear infection, this will not mean that the child will automatically have poor articulation skills. It is when the ear infections become chronic that concerns about articulation arises. Inconsistent auditory input due to fluctuating hearing losses accompanying middle ear involvement may negatively affect the child’s ability to establish underlying features for consonant production.
Is a child growing up in a bilingual home at greater risk for language impairments?
Growing up in a bilingual or bidialectal home does not put a child at greater risk for language-learning difficulties. These children will not be slower to develop language nor will it be a “harder” task. Quite the contrary, children who learn more than one language are perhaps better prepared to meet the demands of a multicultural, multilingual society. By understanding and promoting the importance of each language and dialect, parents have the capability of helping their children develop into respectful, knowledgeable citizens who honor differences and variations in other’s language and styles of communication.
Do boys and girls develop language differently?
There are more similarities than differences in how boys and girls acquire their language skills. Any subtle, temporary differences may be due to how and when parents interact with their children, as well as the types of play situations in which the children engage.