Re-Run: Ask Bec- my 3 year old pronounces some words incorrectly, what should I do?

Kids are such copycats so always model good language use for them.

Question : Hi Bec, I have a 3 year old who has a broad vocabulary however doesn’t pronounce all of her words clearly. Should I be correcting all of her words already, or will this come naturally with time? At what age should I be concerned if she isn’t speaking clearly? Thanks for any advice you may be able to give…

Answer: Hi, thanks for your question- my first Speech Pathology question, yahoo!

It’s great that your 3 year old has a broad vocabulary. It means she is assigning meaning to words even if those words aren’t so clearly spoken yet. Speech sounds are acquired across a number of years with the trickiest sounds (like ‘th’ in there) being acquired, on average, at 5 plus years old!

I must admit, I’ve had to get the old text books out to get these ages for your question, but these are the average ages of sound acquisition of English Consonants according to Olmsted (1971) and Sander (1972):

p/h/n/b: 1.5- 2 years

m:  1.5-2.5 years

w: 1.5-3 years

k: 2 years

g/f: 2-2.5 years

d: 2-3 years

j: 2.5-3 years

s: 2.5-3.5 years

v: 3-4 years

sh: 3.5-4 years

t/ng (like the end of swing): 2-4.5 years (long age gap!)

r/l: 2.5-4.5 years

ch/z: 3.5-4.5 years

dge (like at the end of wedge): 3.5-4.5 years plus

th (voiceless as in thumb): 4.5 years plus

th (voiced as in there): 5 years plus

If your daughter is on par with the average ages above then all good. If not, then maybe have her assessed by a local Speech Pathologist. You can go to www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au and find one.

When parents provide good language modelling and reinforcement, a child’s repertoire of word meanings and sounds is established. This means that you should always provide a good example of language and sound use for your child (duh Rebecca!). This also means that you should never repeat back to your child when they pronounce a sound the wrong way. Ie. Your child says “I want the wed (red) ball.” Never repeat “wed” back to your child as that only reinforces the phonological (sound) representation she is forming in her brain. Also try to avoid what we call a “punisher” by saying “No you said that wrong, it’s actually red” as this is quite negative. Instead you could say something like “Oh you want the red ball. Yes, good idea. Lets play with the big, red ball.” This way you’re providing a positive reinforcement and also  doing what I like to call “language value adding” by sneaking a few more descriptive terms in which only strengthens the word-meaning-sound relationship and also encourages expansion of the vocabulary. I can go a bit OTT with this, I apologise to anyone at my local Coles who has to listen to me cackle away at Oscar the entire time “I’m getting two of the long, pointy, orange carrots. Let’s go and get a big, carton of the cold milk…” blah blah, shut up mum!

One other important tip with littlies, and a trap that I sometimes fall into and that I hear going on around me all the time, is parents only addressing their children and themselves by their name instead of using the appropriate pronouns. For example when I’m speaking to Oscar I might say “Does Oscar want a sandwich? Mummy’s going to have one.” I should say, “Would you like a sandwich? I’m going to have one.” This models a more appropriate use of language- who the hell talks like that to anyone but their kids anyway? ha!

Please let me know if there’s anything else you need. If there’s anyone out there with other speechie questions, fire them in! x

 

Leave a Comment


  1. Rebecca T

    Hi there Bec! Thanks for this post…my 3 year old daughter has just been diagnosed with having childhood speech apraxia. Its all abit overwhelming for us at the moment, but at least we can now focus on what exactly needs to be done to help her along with her speech.
    Have you come across many cases of this? Much love from Rebecca xox

    1. Hi Rebecca, You’re welcome. No I haven’t come across much of this because it’s not really my area of expertise but my girlfriend, Elise Swallow, specialises in this. She is actually trained in it by the world guru in Israel. If you wanted to contact her she is at http://www.voicewithin.com.au She is one of the best Speech Pathologists I know and has a HUGE passion for your daughter’s disorder. Good luck with it. At least now with a diagnosis you can get her on the road to fluent speech. All the best

  2. Dell J

    Love this post. I’ve got a nearly 3 year old and was wondering if his speech was normal… Seems it is. Love your work. Dellxx

  3. Ebony C

    I have just started Speech Therapy sessions with my four year old. It’s such hard work. My little Miss finds it very frustrating and gets embarassed. However, I can already hear the difference it is making.

  4. Alexis G

    Hi Bec. Very helpful post. I have been worried that my 27 month old only puts 2 words together at most (that are understandable) and a lot of my friends are telling me that their kids the same age are speaking in sentences. Do I need to worry?
    Thanks, Lex