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Stepping Into Speech

Updated: 4 days ago

When should children learn each speech sound?

Australian English is made up of 44 speech sounds - 20 vowels and 24 consonants. Every word we say is a combination of these sounds. To speak clearly, we need to have mastered these sounds, know how to combine them and when to use them.



Babies begin to master a range of sounds well before they can use them in words. All their gurgles, coos and babble are important opportunities to practise their early speech skills. Their first speech sounds are generally sounds made at the front of their mouth which they can copy from watching adults’ faces.

Between 6-9 months babies begin to babble, using strings of sounds made with their lips, such as b and m.

Around 9-12 months, babies begin to use a wider range of sounds such as d, m, n, h, w, t.

Now babies will start to use sounds to say their first words. They generally will start by simplifying the word and leaving out some sounds. For example, a word like ‘biscuit’ could be simplified to ‘bi’.

Tips to develop your baby’s speech:

Early sound play is super important. Encourage your baby to watch you face then make some sounds. Pause and wait for them to respond. If your child is cooing, model some babbling sounds such as mumum, bubbub. If they are babbling, try some more varied sound patterns e.g. booma. Of course it is never too soon to speak to your baby with real words too!


Between 1-2 years your baby’s speech sounds will really take off. As their vocabulary explodes their speech should become easier to understand. During this time you can expect the number of words in your toddler’s vocabulary to triple! Their new sounds will help them say all their new words.

By 2 years, toddlers should be able to say p, b, m, t, d, n, h, w.

By 3 years they will be adding k, g, f, s, ng (e.g. sing)

Tips to develop your Toddler’s Speech

  • Play look, listen and copy games in the mirror. Make a sound, a face or animal noise and ask your child to copy you. This will encourage them to pay attention to your face and become aware of what their lips and tongue can do. Try making silly faces, roaring like a dinosaur, blowing raspberries or simply ask them to copy speech sounds and nonsense words.

  • Make sure your child has a good model to follow. Ask them to watch your face when you teach them a new word.

  • Speak clearly and model how the word should sound.

  • Repeat new and fun-sounding words. Show your child how to play with words and sounds.

  • Emphasise new words in books. Repeat and emphasise the new word.

  • Don’t test your child by asking them to repeat tricky sounds or tell them they have got the word wrong. Exposing them to good, clear models is what is important for their speech development.


By 4 years of age, children are speaking in longer sentences. They can say most sounds, but they don’t necessarily use them in all the right spots yet.

4 year olds should be able to say m, n, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g, ng, f, y, s, z, ch, j, sh, l.

They should also say the range of vowel sounds.

Tips to develop your Preschooler’s Speech

  • Continue the look, listen and copy games

  • Try Modelling and Recasting. This is a technique that we use to help a child correct their own speech patterns.

When child says a word incorrectly, repeat the word back to them clearly. A lot. Don’t

ask the child to try and say it again, just keep modelling the correct way to say it.

For example, your child says: “Look at this sell”

You say: You’ve found a beautiful shell. What colour is the shell? I love the shiny

shell. Where did you find the shell? Are there any more shells? Can you find

another shell the same? I love shells. What will you do with your shell? I’m going

to look for a shell too. Shell, shell, shell.

School Starters and Beyond (5+ years)

By now your child should be clearly understood by 95-100% of listeners. They will be saying the full range of sounds (/th/ and /r/ may still be developing).

Tips to develop their speech

  • Try the suggestions outlined above

  • Read books together and talk about words

  • Talk about the sounds you hear in words - sounds at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of words.

  • Contact a speech pathologist if your 5 year old is not meeting their milestones


Just because your child has can say all their speech sounds, it doesn’t mean that they are ready to use the sounds in the right way in every word all the time. Learning to say sounds is the first step, learning when to use them and combine them with other sounds is far more tricky.

Why is my child hard to understand?

There are several reasons your child may be hard to understand. A speech pathologist can assess your child’s speech, work out why they are having difficulties being understood, and create a treatment plan to help your child.

Here are a few terms your speech pathologist may use:

  1. Articulation delay or disorder - this means that your child has trouble shaping their lips, tongue or palate to form the sounds correctly

  2. Phonological delay or disorder - this means that your child is not using the sounds appropriately. For example, it is common for a toddler to call a car a ‘tar’. This is an example of the phonological process of fronting. The child may be able to make a ‘k’ sound, but is not using it correctly in words yet.

  3. CAS (Childhood Apraxia of Speech) or Motor Planning Disorder - this is very rare. Less than 1% of children with unclear speech have trouble sequencing sounds. They generally know what sounds they want to use, but they have trouble getting the right message to the muscles involved in speech.

What to do if your child’s speech is unclear

By 4 years of age, your child should be understood by around 75% of people outside of your family. By 5 years of age, 95-100% of all listeners should understand your child.

If your child is hard to understand and is not meeting these expectations, then it’s time to see a Speech Pathologist. At Newcastle Speech Pathology we work with children and their parents to assess the child's speech skills, determine the nature and patterns of their speech difficulties, and develop a personalised treatment plan.


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