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Speech sounds

Speech is a series of sounds which are used together to form words and sentences. The development of speech sounds in children follows a normal developmental pattern, from simple sounds based on the letters “b”, “m” and “d”, progressing to more complex sounds like “ch” and, finally, to blends like “bl” and “sm”.

There are a number of reasons why children might struggle with speech, including:

  • A lisp or stammer
  • Poor phonological awareness (recognising individual sounds and patterns)
  • Speech sound delay (where they will follow development but more slowly than others)
  • Speech developmental disorder (where they won’t be following the development at all)

If your child is struggling with speech, you’ll notice that they:

  • Are reluctant to contribute to conversations
  • Sound immature, using simple sounds to replace more difficult ones
  • Have difficulty making sounds in the right order
  • Be difficult to understand if they are talking out of context or about something not related to the here and now
  • Have difficulty recognising sounds and patterns
  • Be unable to use and understand tense endings, e.g. walk, walks, walked
  • Talk around a subject or use unusual vocabulary to avoid difficult words

There are a number of techniques you can use to help your child develop their speech, including:

  • Model the right speech sound rather than correcting the child or asking them to repeat it eg, if the child says "tar" for car, say "Yes, that is a red car"
  • Making time to listen to and talk with your child in order to tune into their speech
  • Encouraging the development of skills such as rhyming, speech sound discrimination and sorting games
  • Including them in a small group for listening and phonics activities at school
  • Handling communication breakdowns sensitively and without drawing too much attention to it
  • Provide opportunities for them to communicate on a 1:1 basis where they are more comfortable and you can tune into their speech
  • Asking them yes/no questions when talking in a group
  • Letting them use non-verbal ways of communicating such as gestures, pointing, pictures, play and writing
  • Monitoring whether they improve over time
  • If you are struggling to understand, repeat what you’ve understood so the young person only has to repeat part of the sentence
  • Ask your GP or health visitor to consider referring for a hearing test, for completeness.
  • Keep a notebook with synonyms (different words that have similar meanings, such as ‘big’ and ‘large’) for words that contain difficult sounds so you can use a different word which is easier to say
  • Let adults know what you find helpful in class, such as being given a warning before being asked a question, having opportunities to show your work without speaking, or sitting near the front
  • If you’re frustrated about your speech, contact a teacher in school who can refer you to Speech and Language Therapy
  • If you want to change your speech, you’ll need to put in lots of practice. A Speech and Language Therapist can give you advice about what you need to do

The following areas often worry parents, carers and teachers. But they’re all perfectly normal and don’t need treatment by a Speech and Language Therapist.

  • Lisping in children under seven, when a “th” sound replaces the letter “s”, usually disappears as children get older – lost teeth or braces might also cause lisping; this is perfectly normal
  • Saying “w” instead of “r” can persist up until the age of seven, although most children will have acquired the “r” sound by the age of five
  • Leaving out the “t” in the middle and at the end of words isn’t a problem unless your child is showing other speech problems – leaving out “t” is often caused by an accent, rather than a problem with talking
  • Replacing “th” with “f” (in words such as “thing”) and “th” with “v” (in words such as “that”) is usually caused by accent, rather than speech difficulties

If you notice any of these in your child after the age of seven, and they seem to be causing difficulties, consider contacting your GP or our HealthHub for advice.

There are a number of resources you can look at to help your child develop, including: