Speech and Language errors: Is it cute, or should I be worried?

Speech Therapy“Efelent” – “Dop it!” – “I winned you!” – “Pipopopopamus”

These are all phrases I have heard on a regular basis working with children as a speech therapist over the past few years. Parents often hear their children misarticulating words or using incorrect words in a sentence and this can be very amusing – but are they age appropriate?

Speech Milestones to look out for

Children all learn at different rates however there are milestones that they should reach by certain ages both for speech sounds and language use. While speech and language go hand in hand, an important distinction needs to be made:

  • Language includes understanding the meaning of words as well as knowing how to put words together (red, big car vs. big, red car).
  • Speech is how these words sound and includes articulating sounds correctly and fluently.

 Language Development

 There are some general guidelines that can be used.

  • By 6 months of age, children should be smiling/squealing in response to others and starting to experiment with sounds they can make (squeals, cooing, babbling)
  • By 12 months of age, children should be understanding and using some single words (mum, dad, ball, drink, doggie)
  • By 18 months of age, children should have a vocabulary of 50 – 100 words including names of items, action words and locations.
  • By 24 months of age, children should be starting to use 2 words phrases (mummy drink, up dad, my truck) and have a vocabulary of 200 – 300 words.
  • By 3 years of age, children should be using simple sentences, asking and understanding questions (what, where, who)
  • By 4 years of age, children should be able to play cooperatively using language with others, follow instructions with 2 parts and use more complex questions (Why did…? Does ….?)

In terms of speech sound development, as a general guide we can use how much speech an unfamiliar listener understands. In other words, someone who is not familiar with your child should be able to understand 50% of what they say at 2 years of age, 75% at 3 years of age and 100% at 4 years of age.

Sound Substitutions

These are common in children learning to speak however we do expect them to resolve these sound errors within certain time frames. Here is a list of some of the most common errors and when they should no longer be present.


Name of error Example Resolved by
Stopping (short sound for a long sound) “pock” for sock 3 years – 3 years, 3 months
Final consonant deletion “pi” for pig, “bu” for bus 3 years,3 months
Fronting (t for k, d for g) “tat” for cat, “doe” for go 3 years,6 months
Cluster reduction “poon” for spoon 4 years


More difficult sounds including /l, r/ and ‘th’ can take children up until 7 years of age to master. Ideally, children should be making little to no errors with speech sounds by the time they start school. Difficulties with producing sounds correctly can impact on letter/sound knowledge and early literacy skills.


What can parents do? 

So back to the examples from the beginning of this – they are all part of the normal process of developing speech and language abilities. The best thing to do is to always model appropriate grammar and articulation of words and give specific cues where necessary e.g. Dog, that starts with a /d/ sound.

Be aware of the Milestones discussed about, but apply it flexibly as each child is different.

If you are concerned at all, chat to your GP or Child Psychologist in the first instance.  Alternatively, seek formal assessment with a certified speech pathologist which will help to cease your anxiety and worry about your child’s development.  A formal assessment will also provide recommendations for what you can do to further assist your child in becoming a little chatter box.

I’ll leave you with my favourite error to date (and the reason why i just looove kids) – “Do you have to go to school to learn how to be a speech terrorist?”


Reference: http://theconversation.com/how-to-tell-if-your-child-has-a-speech-or-language-impairment-31768.



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