As children learn to speak, they don’t learn all the sounds at once. Speech sounds follow a specific pathway of development in which certain sounds are mastered before others, with some differences between individual children. You might be worried about your child’s progress, but remember not to compare their speech to yours. Although it may seem imperfect, it takes a long time for children to develop clear, adult-like speech. Your speech therapist can help you evaluate whether your child is on the right track or has a speech impediment.
Speech Sound Development Charts
The following charts come can be found in the Resources menu of our website under the title, “Speech Development by Age”. They tell you the age ranges for development of each speech sound. The horizontal bars tell you the appropriate timeline for a child to learn a particular sound. These two charts have come from different studies, so they differ slightly in some cases but are very similar and can both be considered valid.
Variation Within Sounds
Some sounds have more than one pronunciation and may appear at different times in development.
/th/ Sounds: the unvoiced /th/ sound in 'thumb' tends to be a little easier to say and usually appears earlier than the voiced /th/ in 'this'
/r/ Sounds: /r/ is easier to say it's beside a vowel, like the pre-vocalic /r/ word 'ripe' or post-vocalic word 'star'. This type of /r/ is usually learned between the ages of 3-5.
When /r/ is beside a consonant, like the /r/ blends 'spread', it can be more difficult to say. Children usually learn /r/ blends between the ages of 3 - 8 or 9 years old.
/s/ Sounds: like /r/, vocalic /s/ is easier than /s/ blends. So the word 'sit' will likely be easier to say than the word 'smell'.
The Speech Hierarchy
It is often easiest to learn a sound by itself before combining it in a word with other sounds. This hierarchy isn’t always followed exactly, but is a general guide for order of practice.
From isolation until sentence-level practice, your child will be working on the technical skills of pronouncing a sound correctly. When it comes to the last level of generalization or using it in everyday conversation, the skill shifts from technical ability to attention. Your child has to remember to use their ‘new’ sound in all contexts and that’s where school and family take the supporting lead. Check out our detailed hierarchy here.
There is a lot more to identifying a speech impediment than this chart; it should be used as a guide but not a tool for diagnosis of a speech delay. If you would like an assessment or speech therapy, or have any questions for a speech pathologist, feel free to contact us.