Speech Development

As parents, how do you know when the errors your child makes stop being cute and may actually need some support to correct it?

When young children are learning to talk there are a number of error patterns (or processes) which are common, for example:

Process Description Example Typically gone by
Final Consonant Deletion Missing the end sounds from words Cat to ca 3 years
Stopping Longer sounds (f or s ) swapped for shorter ones (e.g. b or d) Fish to bish

Soap to doap

3 years
Fronting swapping sounds typically made at the back of the mouth (e.g. k or g) with a front sound e.g. (t or d) Cat to tat

Gate to date

3 years 6 months
Cluster reduction Simplifying words which begin with 2 consonants to one Spoon to boon

Smile to mile

4 years
Gliding Swapping r or l for w or y Red to wed

Yellow to lellow

5 years

There are some error patterns which do not typically occur in speech development and which will always benefit from advice from a speech and language therapist:

Process Description Example
Backing Producing front sounds further back t to k (e.g. take to cake)

d to g (e.g. date to gate)

Initial consonant deletion Missing the first sounds from words Cat to at

Dog to og

Favoured sound All initial sounds swapped for one All words start with /h/ or /d/

This table summarises the typical ages that children should be able to use which sounds

Age Consonant sounds typically used
1 year m, n, p, b w
2 years + t,  d, k, g, ng,
3 years + f, s, l, y, z
4 years + v, sh, ch, j
5 years+ + r, th


  • Consonant clusters e.g. st, gr, kw develop around 3.5- 4 years old.
  • It is common for children to swap r, w, l and y until around 5 years old
  • Often ‘th’ and ‘r’ are not in mature form until 7 years old

A child aged 3 years or above who is very difficult to understand is likely to benefit from consultation with a speech and language therapist.

As a parent it can be difficult to work out which processes your child may be using. You may just recognise that their talking doesn’t sound quite right. In general a child should be almost completely understood by unfamiliar listeners by 4 years. If you are concerned about your child’s speech you should speak to a speech and language therapist.

References: Grunwell, P (1987), Bowen, C (1998), Dodd, B (2002)


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