Speech Sound Production

Throughout my posts, I offer suggestions of speech sounds that can be targeted while reading different books. However, you may be wondering, what is normal? Is it okay that your three year old has difficulty with the /s/ sound? Is it okay that people have difficulty understanding what your five year old says?

SPEECH refers to the production of phonemes – is your child producing the sounds in words correctly? In the speech language pathologist world we classify speech production errors into two groups – articulation impairment and phonological process disorder.

  • ARTICULATION is the ability to produce singleton sounds accurately using the correct motor functions (using tongue, lips, jaw, teeth, palate, vocal folds together to produce each sound). There is no pattern to these errors. The reason may be unknown (no serious problems with muscle function) or known (children with dysarthria or problems with muscle function).
  • PHONOLOGY involves organizing the patterns of speech sounds in the brain and then being able to say them. It will include groups of sounds (i.e., beginning/ending sounds, sounds formed in back of mouth, blends).
  • INTELLIGIBILITY refers to how understandable the child is. Understanding only 50% of what your two-year-old says is typical! We would expect to understand 75% of a three-year-old’s speech and close to 100% of a four-year-old’s speech.

There are different errors a child may have in their speech sound production.

  • substitutions: substituting a different sound for the correct one (‘wamp’ for lamp)
  • omissions: not producing a sound in the word (‘oo’ for boo)
  • distortions: not producing a sound correctly (frontal lisp with /s/ or hyper/hyponasality)
  • additions: adding a sound to a word that doesn’t belong

You can do a web-based search to find a variety of graphs that indicate when speech sounds should be mastered by. The one I have below is very similar to the one that I use with the parents that I work with. I took this one from advantagespeech.com. Are you wondering about those symbols towards the bottom? θ is voiceless ‘th’ (teeth, think) and ð is voiced ‘th’ (the, that). The ‘zh’ would be found in the word measure.

I like the chart above because it illustrates, so simply, when speech sounds are mastered by 90% of typically developing children. So, by the age of 4, we would expect a typically developing child to be able to produce /d, g, k, b, w, n, p, m, h, f, y/ accurately in conversation.

If you have concerns about your child’s speech sound development, I would recommend speaking with your child’s pediatrician. There are services that can be provided through your county’s Birth to Three program, and when your child is three years old, they can be serviced through your local public school district.

A great way to work at home with your child on speech sound development is to read them books! I use visual/tactile cues as I read so that the child can pair a cue with the sound.

Here is a visual I created that I use to help children remember the sound that they are working on. You can also download the b/w version on my Teachers Pay Teachers site here!

/m, b, p/ – bilabial sounds (produce them by closing your lips – I point to my lips): Usborne Talkabouts: The Zoo, Switch and Swap: Animals, Paint Me A Picture, A Tale of Two Beasts, Little Bear Needs Glasses, Muddle and Match, That’s Not My…, There’s a Mouse About the House, All Better, Flippy Floppy Farm Animals, Busy Books

Here are my top 5 FAVORITE books when targeting these speech sounds!

/h/ – I flatten my hand with the palm up and place under my chin as I make the /h/ sound.

/f/ – To make this sound, you place your upper teeth lightly on top of your lower lip. I then point to that place of contact when providing a visual cue. It is also helpful for the child to look at themselves in the mirror: Snail Brings the Mail, That’s Not My…, Muddle and Match

/t, d, n/ – alveolar sounds (produced with tip of tongue behind your top teeth – I point to my top teeth): Snail Brings the Mail, What Will Danny Do Today?, Little Bear Needs Glasses, I’m a Dirty Dinosaur, Muddle and Match, That’s Not My…, Nibbles the Book Monster, This is Owl, A Tale of Two Beasts

/k, g/ – velar sounds (produce in the back of your mouth with the back of your tongue – I touch the front of my neck): Little Bear Needs Glasses, Muddle and Match, That’s Not My…, All Better, Secrets of Animal Camouflage

s-blends – when children leave off the /s/ sound, I run my pointer finger up my opposite arm as I make the /s/ sound and then touch the appropriate place for the next sound (so for the word skate I would run my finger up my arm for the /s/ and touch my neck for the /k/): Snail Brings the Mail, Switch and Swap: Animals, This is Owl, Lizard in a Blizzard, A Tale of Two Beasts, Nibbles: The Book Monster, Secrets of Animal Camouflage, I’m a Dirty Dinosaur

I created a fun resource as well that can be used to work on all of the speech sounds (and help to increase vocabulary at the same time!). You can check it out here!

Here my daughter is working on the /m/ sound with one of the Christmas overlays. You can also print off the black and white version for your child to color!

If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you – contact me here!

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