Can't Understand A Word Your Child Is Saying?

Bridget Hillsberg
February 28, 2020

YAY! Your two-year-old is finally talking! She says new words everyday and she’s able to even string words together into short sentences. There’s only one problem – you can’t understand what she is saying half the time. Does this sound familiar? If the answer is a resounding YES, we want to assure you that this is not uncommon. This happens all the time. Here’s why…These speech sound errors that you are hearing are called phonological processes and they are naturally occurring errors in a child’s speech. Typically, developing children use phonological processes to simplify speech as they are learning to talk because they often don’t have the ability to coordinate the lips, tongue, teeth, palate and jaw for clear speech articulation. For example, they may reduce consonant clusters to a single consonant like, “nake” for “snake” or delete the final syllable in a word saying, “ca” for “cat.” Here is a chart including some of the most common phonological processes, examples of each, and the age in which these should become suppressed.

But what’s the standard guideline? If you are uncertain as to where your child should be based on their age, here’s what you should know…

  • Between 19 – 24 months, your child should be 25-50% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener
  • Between 2 – 3 years old they should be 50-75% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener
  • Between 4-5 years old they should be 75-90% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener even if a few articulation errors are still present in their speech.

If your child has difficulty articulating certain sounds, we encourage parents to model and exaggerate sounds within words. If your child is not marking the final sound within a word, then YOU should really exaggerate that final sound...“caT”. Allow your child to watch your mouth as you articulate words. Direct your child's attention directly to your tongue, teeth, or lips. For example, if your child is “fronting”, they may substitute the “K” sound with a “T” sound. Tell your child, “Look at the back of my tongue! It goes up! It hits the roof of my mouth - (as you exaggerate the K)....bacK, sacK, ducK.” If your child is extremely unintelligible between the ages of  2-3 years old, we advise reaching out to a speech-language pathologist (SLP). An SLP will be able to let you know if your child may need speech therapy to improve articulation and if your child’s speech errors are developmentally appropriate or not.

Bridget Hillsberg
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