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  • Writer's pictureRachel Pessah

Speech Sound Development - What to Expect and When

Thanks to everyone that tuned in to my "Live at Lunch" series today!

Today we talked about how speech sounds develop, starting with sounds in the front of your mouth and moving to sounds that you make further back in your mouth.

The first chart (McLeod & Crowe, 2018) I talked about provides ages for when we expect each sound to develop.

In summary:

At 3 years old, most children can make the following sounds: p, b, m, n, t, d, k, g, h, w, ng, f, and y (yellow)

At 4 years old, most children can make the following sounds: l, s, z, sh, ch, and j

At 5 years old, most children can make the r, zh, and th (voiced - e.g., "that") sounds. Most children at this age have mastered 90% of their consonant sounds.

At 6 years old, most children can make the voiceless th sound (e.g., "thin") and by this age should be able to say all consonant sounds.

I also talked briefly about developmentally appropriate phonological processes. Here is a chart that tells you when each phonological process is expected to resolve.


If your child has any of these speech sound challenges, they would likely benefit from consultation with a speech-language pathologist:

- Initial consonant deletion (e.g., "at" for "cat" or "all" for "ball")

- Vowel sound errors (e.g., "cot" for "cat")

- Often frustrated when trying to communicate

- Difficult to understand


The speech sound development chart on its own is not enough to determine whether your child would benefit from speech and language services. It is also important to consider their "intelligibility" (how well they are able to be understood) and their "stimulability" (are they able to make the sound when copying you).

By age 2, most children are understood at least 25% of the time

By age 3, most children are understood 75% of the time.

By age 4, most children are understood 90%+ of the time. (Pena-Brooks, Adriana, & Hedge, 2007).

It is also important to consider whether the sound is beginning to emerge on its own. If your child makes the sound correctly in some words but not others, or in certain positions of the word but not others, they may be starting to figure out how to make the sound on their own.


If your child is having difficulty with a speech sound, you can help by repeating back the word they said with emphasis on the correct production of the sound. The goal is for them to hear the correct production, but not to point out their error or make them repeat the sound again. It is important to maintain a natural flow of conversation (e.g., Johnny - "I see a tat!" Mom - "I see a cat too! That looks like a nice cat!"). This strategy builds an awareness of the correct production without causing frustration for your child.

If you have questions about your child's speech sound development, please feel free to contact us at We would be happy to give you individualized strategies to use with your child at home.


McLeod, S. & Crowe, K. (2018). Children’s consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology.

doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0100. Available from:

Pena-Brooks, Adriana, & Hedge, M.N., (2007). Assessment and treatment of articulation and phonological disorders in children (2nd Edition). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

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