Sound development

Discover the ages and stages of children’s speech

Learning to communicate is a step-by-step process for all children. Although children develop at different rates, here’s a general guideline for speech and sound development.

A newborn communicates by crying. A six-month-old experiments with sounds. A three-year-old can string a four-word sentence together. And by age five, most children can be understood by anyone.

Here’s an overview of children’s sound development. Remember: ear infections are common in children and can interfere with sound development.

By age 3

Between birth and age three, children should be able to say:

Lip sounds: ‘p’, ‘b’, ‘m’ and ‘w’

Tongue tip sounds: ‘t’, ‘d’ and ‘n’

Back of the mouth sounds: ‘k’ and ‘g’

Other sounds: ‘h’ and ‘y’

Sucking, learning to bite and chew, and putting objects in their mouths are also important. These behaviours help children become aware of their mouth parts and control their movement and positions.

By age 4 and a half

By four and a half years, children should be able to say:

Tongue tip sounds: ‘s’ and ‘z’

Middle of the mouth sounds: ‘sh’ and ‘ch’

Other sounds: ‘l’, ‘j’ and ‘f’

Usually children at this age can be understood most of the time. Their speech may become less clear if they are tired, unwell or excited.

Songs, rhymes, books, playing, talking and listening to other children all help them learn correct sounds and word patterns.

By age 7 and a half

At seven and a half, children should be able to say:

All sounds clearly

The last sounds to develop: ‘v’, ‘th’ and ‘r’

Some children take extra time to blend sounds together. For example, ‘tree’, ‘plane’ and ‘desk’.

Children learning more than one language

Children in bilingual families, or those learning more than one language, may need extra time to learn sounds. This is because each language has its own unique sounds.

Learning to use sounds

Children make errors when they begin to talk. They may:

Say an easier sound to substitute a more difficult one, such as ‘tar’ for ‘car’

Leave out sounds, such as ‘boa’ for ‘boat’

Leave out parts of words, such as ‘puter’ for ‘computer’

Mix up the order of sounds, such as ‘psghetti’ for ‘spaghetti’

Say one sound instead of two, such as ‘pane’ for ‘plane’

Sometimes children make several mistakes in one sentence. For example, ‘let’s go to the park’ may sound like ‘we do t u part.’

How to help children learn sounds

Here are some effective ways to help your child in their sound development:

Praise and imitate new sounds when your child says them

When you don’t understand a word or sentence, gently say so – and then try to work it out together

If they’re able to, ask your child to show you what they’re talking about

Check you have the message correct

Expect mistakes, as learning to talk takes years

Listen to what the overall message is rather than every sound

Speak clearly and simply – and talk with your child often

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us for an assessment on