Communication in Children: Development of Speech Sounds: 0-5 years

I’m welcoming my lovely online friend Julie back to the blog today. Julie is a Mum, Speech Pathologist and blogger (at The Useful Box).  Julie has an amazing way of explaining speech development in children and I appreciate her generosity in sharing her expertise on my blog. You see all Julie’s comprehensive posts about communication in children here: Julie Miller — Communication in Children.

Development of Speech Sounds: 0-5 years

Communication in Children: Development of Speech Sounds: 0-5 years

Speech Pathologists are probably most commonly known for assisting children with speech sounds. Though this is not all we do, speech sound development is important in preschool-aged children as a precursor to development of pre-literacy and literacy skills. If you think your child is having difficulty with production of speech sounds, early referral to a Speech Pathologist is always recommended.

Guidelines for speech sound development

The guidelines indicate what is observed in at least 75% of children at a given age.

At 1 year, most children are:

  • Able to alternate consonant sounds in their babble (also known as variegated babbling) e.g. bada, gaba, deebee
  • Using a variety of consonant-vowel combinations (usually without meaning) e.g. boo, ma, goo
  • Using some consonant-vowel-consonant combinations (again, without meaning) e.g. gab, baf, fad
  • Beginning to imitate adult intonation (pitch, sentence contours) in babble
  • Attempting one or more meaningful single words. Sound errors often occur (e.g. mum, dar (for car), wower (for flower)

Contact a Speech Pathologist if:

  • Your 1-year-old is not babbling at all
  • Your 1-year-old has a limited repertoire of speech sounds (e.g. no consonant sounds or only one consonant sound such as “b”)

At 2 years, most children are:

  • Able to be understood by a familiar adult (parent) 50-75% of the time
  • Commonly making errors in the production of their speech sounds
  • Likely to exhibit the following ‘normal’ speech production error patterns (referred to as phonological processes)
      • Deletion of final consonant sounds (e.g. dog – “do”, card – “car”)
      • Fronting of back consonant sounds (‘k’ and ‘g’ become ‘t’ and ‘d’, so car – “tar”, go – “dough”)
      • Stopping of fricative (longer, airy) speech sounds (s, f, and sh sounds e.g. soap – “doap”, fish – “bish”)

Contact a Speech Pathologist if:

  • You are unable to understand your 2-year-old’s speech (more than 50% of the time)
  • Your 2-year-old has no consistent patterns in their speech errors (e.g. one day “dog” is produced “do”, the next day it is “gok”, the next day it is “ba”)
  • Your 2-year-old seems to have weak or insufficient control of oral muscles (This can often be noted in excessive dribbling and/or difficulty with chewing/ eating solid, crunchy or chewy foods, in addition to difficulty with speech sound production)

At 3 years, most children are:

  • Able to be understood by a familiar adult (parent, preschool teacher) 75 – 100% of the time.
  • Able to produce the following speech sounds accurately in most contexts (sometimes children struggle to produce a particular sound in one or two specific words only – this is not a cause for concern at age 3): h, y, w, ng (as in sing, m, n p, b, t, d, k, g)
  • Able to produce the ‘f’ sound accurately in most contexts by 3.5 years
  • Likely to exhibit the following sound production error patterns (phonological processes)
      • Assimilation of consonant sounds (both or all consonants in a word are produced in the same position in the mouth, although the child can use the sounds correctly in other word contexts) e.g. dog – “gog” or “dod”; mine  – “mime”, yellow – “lellow”
      • Deletion of weak (unstressed) syllables in words (e.g. elephant – “efent”, potato – “tato)
      • Cluster reduction (when 2 or more consonant sounds occur together e.g. cl, br, fr, spl, one consonant sound is omitted) e.g. spoon – “poon”, train – “tain”, clean – “cean”)

Contact a Speech Pathologist if:

  • Your 3-year-old has no consistent patterns in their speech errors (see “2 years” section above)
  • Your 3-year-old appears to have weak or insufficient oral muscle control (see “2 years” section above)
  • You have difficulty understanding what your 3-year-old says to you
  • Your 3-year-old is not able to produce h, y, w, ng, m, n, p, b, t, d, k, g sounds in most contexts
  • Your 3.5-year-old is not able to produce f sounds in most contexts
  • Your 3-year-old is continuing to delete final consonant sounds in words (e.g. dog – “do”), stop fricative consonants (e.g. soap – “doap”, fish – “bish”) or front the back consonant sounds (e.g. car – “tar”)

{My daughter is about 3 year, 3 months in these clips. She demonstrates a lisp on production of ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds (common up to 4.5 years). My son is just under 2 in the first section and just over 2 in the second part of the clip. He uses most of the common patterns of sound errors. You may notice deleting of final and beginning consonant sounds, fronting of k/g sounds to t/d, deletion of syllables, assimilation of consonant sounds. You may not comprehend much of what Mr. 2 says! This is normal at age 2.}

At 4 years, most children are:

  • Able to be understood by a familiar adult almost 100% of the time.
  • Able to produce all ‘3-year-old’ speech sounds accurately in most contexts, as well as producing the ‘l’, ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ sounds accurately in most contexts
  • Able to produce the ‘j’, ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds accurately by 4.5 years in most contexts
  • Likely to exhibit the following sound production error patterns (phonological processes)
      • Stopping of ‘sh’, ‘ch’ and ‘j’ sounds so they are produced as ‘d’ or ‘t’ e.g. share – “dare”, jump – “dump”, chair – “tair”
      • Gliding of ‘l’ and ‘r’ sounds to be produced as ‘w’ or ‘y’ e.g. run – “wun”, leg – “yeg”
      • Stopping of ‘th’ sounds so they are produced as ‘t’ or ‘d’ e.g. them – “dem”, thing – “ting”
  • Possibly still producing a lisp sound on production of ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds. (The tongue protrudes between the front teeth on production of this sound). This type of lisp is common in children until 4.5 years.

Contact a Speech Pathologist if:

  • Your 4-year-old displays any difficulties as outlined in the 2 and 3-year-old sections above
  • Your 4-year-old is unable to produce ‘l’, ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ sounds accurately in most contexts
  • Your 4-year-old is continuing to assimilate consonant sounds in words (e.g. dog – “dod” or “gog”)
  • Your 4-year-old consistently omits sounds in consonant clusters (e.g. spoon – “poon”, glass – “gass”)
  • Your 4-year-old consistently omits syllables in multiple words (e.g. elephant – “efent”, tomato – “mato”)
  • Your 4.5-year-old in unable to produce the ‘j’, ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds accurately in most contexts
  • Your 4.5-year-old continues to lisp on production of the “s’, “z” sounds, or produces a lisp on “sh”, “ch” or “j” sounds

At 5 years, most children:

  • Still have difficulty with production of ‘r’ sounds (accurate production develops by 6 years in 75% or children) and ‘v’ sounds (accurate production also by 6 years).
  • May produce ‘th’ sounds as ‘f’ or ‘v’ e.g. think – “fink”, bath – “baf”. Accurate production generally develops by 8.5 years, however in some areas, ‘th’ produced as ‘f’ is considered an acceptable variant. This does not impact on listener comprehension.

Contact a Speech Pathologist if:

  • Your child demonstrating any of the difficulties as outlined in the 2,3 and 4-year-old sections above
  • Your child is unable to produce the ‘r’ and ‘v’ sounds accurately by age 6.
  • You feel that your child’s literacy development is being impacted by difficulty with speech sound production

Please contact a Speech Pathologist if you have any concerns about your child’s speech sound production…or feel free to leave any questions in the comments below and I’ll pop by and answer them.

Reference: Bowen, C. (1998) Developmental Phonological Disorders: A Practical Guide for Families and Teachers. Melbourne: ACER Press

Read Julie’s Other Posts

Baby Communication: Newborn to 1

Communication in Children: 12 months to 24 months

Communication in Children: 2-3 years

Communication in Children: 3-4 years

Communication in Children: Development of Speech Sounds: 0-5 years

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  • Reply
    Peta Wright
    November 30, 2011 at 9:03 am

    Hi Julie.
    Can you recommend any speech pathologists on the north side of Brisbane? I would like to get my 4 year old son assessed by a speech pathologist, our gp has also suggested it might be worthwhile. He has difficulty making the “ch” sound, it almost sounds like “sh” and he has trouble making the “j” sound, it sounds like it’s coming from much further back in his mouth than the front teeth, almost muffling the sound and making it sound a bit like “ch”. We can understand him fairly easily, and so can most of our close friends that we spend quite a bit of time with, but I’ve noticed that strangers or those we don’t see often have difficulty understanding him. I pick him up when he pronounces things incorrectly and we work on it together until the sounds are as close as he can get… I’m just not sure what else I should/could be doing for him… Any advice would be helpful.

    • Reply
      November 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Peta,
      I don’t really know anyone in Brisbane – I am Sydney-based. You can find a list of private practitioners who are members of our association (Speech Pathology Australia) by visiting http://www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au and clicking the “find a Speech Pathologist” or similar tab. Make sure you find a Speech Pathologist who works with preschoolers and “articulation/phonology”.

      It sounds like your son is doing what we call “de-affrication” of his ch and j sounds. These sounds should be produced correctly after 4.5 years. If this is the only speech error he is making, therapy shouldn’t be too difficult. You may try to prompt the “ch” sound by giving him a cue to push his tongue quickly on the back of his top teeth when he makes the sound. We also usually work up a hierarchy from practicing the individual sound, then sound + vowel (e.g. choo), then single words (chin, match, matches – practice the sound in initial, medial and final position in words), then short phrases etc… You could start this at home, but best to see a Speech Pathologist of course. Hope you find someone.

  • Reply
    Kelly Be A Fun Mum
    November 30, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Thanks Julie. Love the video of your kids! Verbal communication has been a huge thing in managing my now 6 year old daughter with special needs. She has had anxiety, sensory, motor planning and gross and fine motor skill problems but her speech has always been very good so we’ve been able to use that as a tool to overcome many of the other issues we’ve had. I wonder, in the same way, can parents (and do Speech Pathologists) use other strengths in children to help overcome speech issues? For example, can parents, say use gross motor activities (if that is one of the child’s strengths) to encourage/aid speech?

    • Reply
      November 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      Thanks for having me Kelly.

      We often focus on other strengths in the children we see to help them with their speech issues. For early speech and language delays, or children who are particularly unintelligible, signing is often used as a supplement to verbal language. Many speech pathologists use a technique called “cued articulation”, which involves a series of hand gestures to demonstrate and guide placement of lips, teeth and tongue during production of particular speech sounds. Children with speech and language delays often benefit from using their visual strengths during therapy too. And, fine and gross motor activities are always fun to use to supplement speech work during therapy sessions and home practice!

      Like any form of teaching, it is important to work with and encourage strengths to help with the areas of difficulty. Sounds like this has worked really well with your daughter, Kelly.

  • Reply
    Laney @ Crash Test Mummy
    November 30, 2011 at 9:20 am

    This is an excellent reference, thank you. My daughter is 3 years 9 months and pronounces her js with a soft ‘Zh’ sound, like the French! Is this the lisp you refer to? S sound is fine, no lisp.
    Thanks 🙂

    • Reply
      November 30, 2011 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Laney,

      Actually, the “zh” sound for the “j” is called “de-affrication” (I talked about this in response to Peta’s comment above”). That is a perfectly acceptable substitution at 3 years, 9 months, and should correct itself by about 4.5 years. There are a couple of types of lisps, but the most common is where the tongue protrudes between the front teeth when producing the s, z (and sometimes other) sounds. It doesn’t sound like your daughter is doing this.

      • Reply
        Laney @ Crash Test Mummy
        December 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm

        Sorry for such a late reply, but just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to answer my question.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 9:42 am

    I would love to take my 2.5 year old to a speech pathologist but am told the waiting times are ridiculous. He says some words, can say thank you for example, but he’s incoherent a lot of the time. I think it’s because of his tongue. Are there any exercises we could/should be doing?

    • Reply
      November 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm

      Hi Ames,

      Not sure where you live, but in NSW, the waiting lists are shorter for children under 3 years. (e.g. in the health area where I work, under 3s wait for up to 6 months, over 3s for at least 12 months). So, if you are concerned it would be worthwhile to put your son’s name on a waiting list now. Some areas also run ‘drop-in’ clinics, where you can have a 15 minute appointment and get some advice/ things to try while you are waiting the 6 months for a proper assessment.

      If you are not understanding 50-75% of what your son says, I would recommend a Speech Pathology consult. I can’t really give you specific exercises etc without seeing/ hearing what your son is doing, but feel free to email me julie@theusefulbox.com if you want some more specific details.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks Julie and Kelly – this is a great reference 🙂

    • Reply
      November 30, 2011 at 1:25 pm

      Glad it is helpful Libby.

  • Reply
    Debbie @ Aspiring Mum
    November 30, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    I’ve actually been thinking of catching up on some of your posts about speech, Julie – and then I discover you must have read my mind! My nearly 2.5 yr old daughter is what I would consider, delayed in her speech compared to what her siblings were at the same age. I don’t know if it’s because she’s the youngest of 4 – and everyone else talks for her. But she has a limited vocabulary and is difficult to understand most of the time. I’ve been thinking I should get her assessed, and this post has just confirmed that for me. Thanks!

    • Reply
      December 1, 2011 at 6:56 am

      Glad this has helped Debbie. If you are concerned, it is always best to get some advice/ help as early as possible. Let me know how you go…

  • Reply
    December 1, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    hi Julie

    Any suggestions/fun games welcome for daughter 4 years 9 months for red sounding like wed, and three sounding like free etc. Read that it’s common for a while longer. So no problem really. Just thought it worth asking instead of waiting for time to pass, or waiting for some future date when I ask again if still there. Otherwise all great. Speech. Lots of it.

    Actually, she’s still resisting learning how to blow her nose, so picks it instead. On the sly. She sniffs in. Was tricky in early swimming lessons when they kept asking her to blow out. She’d sniff and water would go in. Different place now just says to hold breath so fine. Her younger sister knew how to blow her nose right away. Neither ever had an ear infection. Will have to work on attitude and rewards to try again I guess. She gets frustrated that she “can’t do it” and folds her arms.

    So, mainly three/free and red/wed. But also blowing nose? Does that come under your line of work? hehe. seriously.


  • Reply
    December 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Hi Vicky, sorry about the delay in responding to your comment!

    As you mentioned, both the “r” and “th” sounds are not expected to be produced accurately until after 6 years, so your daughter is fine at the moment.

    The R produced as W is the most common substitution. The difference between the R and W sounds is that the tongue is slightly elevated and curled back on production of R, but flat on the bottom of the mouth on production of W. Practicing that “curled” tongue might help your daughter to get there with the correct sound a little quicker. As I mentioned above, start R on its own first, then syllables (e.g. row, rye, ree), then words (red, rabbit), then short phrases, then sentences.

    The TH produced as F is also common. Your daughter basically needs to push her tongue between her front teeth on production of TH, instead of keeping her tongue back inside her mouth. You can practice this in front of a mirror, so she can see her tongue.

    Haven’t done anything professionally with nose-blowing (sorry), but to practice getting your daughter to understand blowing out, rather than in, you could hold a tissue by one corner and get her to make it move/ blow away from her (either expressing air though nose or mouth). Blowing a cotton ball along a table-top could also work, and would be fun to do with having ‘races’ etc.

  • Reply
    February 25, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Great, Great guide – put my mind at ease. My almost 2 year old is not a big talker had her chaterbox mum worried for a minute there. Thanks again

  • Reply
    joan shovlin
    December 15, 2012 at 5:35 am

    please if there is someone out there that can help me find the answers that I need to help my son. He is nine years old and is fourth grade.We are being told that he has Central Auditory Prossesing Disorder,Developmental Apraxia/Expressive & Receptive Language Deleys. Could someome please explane to me what this is and what it means.I just dont know were to turn for help. Thank You to who ever reads this.

  • Reply
    October 7, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    hy! nice article
    verry helpfull fo my studies

    warms regards from indonesia

  • Reply
    Box Hill Speech Pathology
    November 14, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I think Julie deserves a round of applause for such a great blog and for letting us in on her home life with her children. Every parent needs to understand the speech development of their child/children, so that they may be aware of any onset speech problems. This post allows the parent to see where their child is at with regards to communication skills. Thank you Kelly for allowing Julie to post this great blog entry.

  • Reply
    April 8, 2014 at 10:29 am

    This is a topic which is near to my heart…
    Cheers! Exactly where aree your contact details

  • Reply
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  • Reply
    September 19, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    hi Kelly

    Greetings from India… one concern that does not fall in any of the above speech development stages: my 4y 6 months boy, can recite rhymes, sing songs, make all the sounds of the alphabets & numbers. He also remembers all that he is taught, he can recall the mobile numbers & so on. Yet one concern, general conversations are limited to small sentences. How do I help him overcome this..?
    Thanks a lot in advance
    Anitha (anithabgopal@gmail.com)

  • Reply
    September 25, 2015 at 9:05 am

    My daughter is 4.2yrs old. She started to speak more from 3.5years onwards.
    She cannot spell the ‘r’ ‘s’ letters accurately still. And few words like “Cloud” she will tell “Coud”,. we have to make her repeat 3-4 times and then she will pronounce “Cloud” as “Cloud”. Another example is for “Leave” she will tell “Mew” , we have to correct her many times for it and then she will pronounce it correctly.
    Some say it will build up with age…. but as a mother am worried. Do we need to see a doctor for this purpose..?
    Please help me and advice me.


  • Reply
    Emtak Blog
    September 7, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Initially Speaking Letter R

    […] and for letting us in on her home life with her children. Every parent needs to […]

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