Dr Susanne Dopke
Speech and Language Pathology
By 2 years of age most children's speech is intelligible to 50%, and 70% of the consonants are produced correctly (Paul 2001). By 3 years of age this should have increased to 75% intelligibility. Most 5-year-old children are 100% intelligible. Nevertheless, some rarer sounds may continue to cause difficulties particularly in combination with other sounds. For an overview of the typical sound development in English click here. Other languages may show a slightly different sound development profile due to the frequency of sounds or sound combinations, but in general, motorically easy sounds are developed before motorically difficult sounds across languages.
The following are some reasons for why a child may continue to be difficult to understand beyond the expected time lines for intelligibility:
The child may not be able to correctly process the sound regularities of the language;
The child may habitually use tongue movements, eg. pushing the tongue forward, which conflict with the correct production of sounds;
The child may have a motor impairment which make the information exchange between the brain and the muscles of speech (jaw, lips, tongue) difficult;
The child may have a sensory impairment which makes it difficult to process and remember the position of tongue, lips and jaw in relation to sounds;
The child may have hidden structural abnormalities inside the mouth;
Being bilingual DOES NOT CAUSE articulation problems. For more information on bilingualism and language disorder,
If you feel that your child or a child you are working with is more difficult to understand than other children of the same age, it is important that this child be assessed by a speech pathologist. The speech pathologist can find out why the child is not intelligible or refer the child to another professional like an audiologist or an ENT (ear-nose-throat) physician.
Speech pathology therapy will address the cognitive, motoric and/or sensory difficulties underlying the child's lack of intelligibility.
Speech pathology programs for young children usually involve the parents or carers of the child. The speech pathologists will design a graded program for the needs of the particular child which teaches the child correct speech muscle movements and to think and talk about sounds. The parents or carers will usually be expected to follow a home program between sessions. This will ensure maximum progress.
A good speech pathology program involves plenty of fun activities, games, and appealing material appropriate for the child's age. The speech pathologist will teach parents ways of giving the child feedback which strengthens correct sound production and fades out incorrect movements.
considerations regarding the treatment of bilingual children,
last updated: July 24th, 2005