‘Speech’ is the word that describes the sounds that are used in words as we talk. It’s the way we pronounce words. Learning to say the right sounds in words is not an easy task for children. A child needs a lot of different skills to be able to say sounds correctly.

How clear is your child’s speech?

Usually, young children can be understood by those people who are closest and know them best. So, you might understand them where a neighbour may not. At 18 months, parents can usually follow 1 in every 4 words a child says. By 2 years, parents can usually follow half of what’s said. By 3 years, parents can follow virtually all of what’s said, and by 4 years, even unfamiliar adults can understand.

Development of speech sounds

Speech sounds don’t all develop at once. The chart shows the average age when children are able to say each sound of English. Some children learn some sounds earlier than this and others learn later – just as some children learn to walk earlier or later than others.  If a child is slower by more than six months for any sound, please refer for assessment by a Speech and Language Therapist.

Children learn to say some sounds before others – it’s a gradual process. The later sounds require fine co-ordination – a bit like hopping or skipping; you’d expect a 2 year old to be able to walk but not to hop or skip until they are older. A 2 year old is able to say sounds like ‘m’ and ‘b’ but not ‘r’ and ‘ch’.

9 out of 10 children can say these sounds:

  • lip sounds – p, b, w
  • front sounds – t, d
  • nasal sounds – n, m
  • putting sounds at the ends of words

9 out of 10 children can say these sounds:

  • y
  • h

9 out of 10 children can say these sounds:

  • k
  • g
  • s
  • f
  • ng

9 out of 10 children can say these sounds:

  • v
  • z

9 out of 10 children can say these sounds:

  • sh
  • ch
  • j
  • consonant blends – bl, pl, sp, st, sc, etc.

9 out of 10 children can say these sounds:

  • r

9 out of 10 children can say these sounds:

  • th


  • Quiet time – Try to have some quiet time each day. Five minutes is fine. Turn off the TV, radio and music during quiet time. Share a book or talk about some of your child’s toys.
  • Listening games
  • New noise – Whenever you hear a noise that’s new or interesting to your child, draw his or her attention to the noise and it’s source. Point out planes, fire engines, hoover, phone and so on.
  • Listening walk – get your child to find 5 noises as you walk e.g. to the shop, in the park, around the house. Talk about what they hear.
  • Rhymes and songs
  • Sing or tell rhyming songs or stories to your child. Get them to join in.
  • Point out words that sound similar e.g. hat and cat.
  • Talk about the rhymes in the songs.
  • Learning words for things
  • Practise counting, e.g. when going upstairs.
  • Practise sorting things into ‘long’ and ‘short’.
  • Talk about the ‘front’ and ‘back’ of things e.g. vehicles.
  • Teach about ‘first, middle, last’.

All these concepts are useful in talking about speech sounds.

Accept how your child says words, but to help them develop, speak clearly to your child and model the word to them.

For example: If they say a word incorrectly, say it back to them correctly to give them a good model and show that you understand. If your child points at a duck and says ‘look, guck’, respond with ‘yes, it’s a duck’.

Things that don’t help

Please try to avoid these:

  • Correcting your child all the time.
  • Asking your child to ‘say it properly’.
  • Making your child repeat a word over and over.
  • Letting your child talk with a dummy in.
  • Don’t pretend to understand if you don’t.  If you can’t understand your child’s speech ask them to repeat the word in an encouraging way.  For example, “my ears aren’t very good and I didn’t hear that.  Can you say it again for me?”

The most important skill is listening


  • I spy games
  • Feely bag of household objects with toys starting with a particular sound
  • Rhymes with 1 sound e.g. five fat sausages
  • Treasure hunt for things starting with a sound
  • Scrap book with a page for each sound

But don’t push your child to say the sound.