Children are amazing, by their first birthday they are starting to say their first words, they are looking, they’re pointing, they’re using eye contact – they’re communicating with purpose.
By the time a child is eighteen months old, they will have around fifty words and will be following simple instructions and responding to questions or commands such as “Can I have your cup?” or “Don’t touch!” or “Where’s your tummy?”.
By the time a child is two, they may have a vocabulary of around 200-300 words, and they’re starting to put those words together into little sentences. However, only around half of what a two-year-old says can be understood as they are still developing their speech sounds.
By the time a child is three, around 70% of what they are saying is intelligible. We often hear errors in sound pronunciation at this age. Over the next 12 months, most sounds begin to be produced correctly, whilst some of the later developing sounds may still be mispronounced. Children begin to ask more questions using ‘what’ ‘where’ and ‘who’.
By the time a child is four, they’re communicating quite well. They are understanding, taking turns in conversation, telling simple stories and asking loads of questions. Their speech will be easily understood by unfamiliar listeners. They will also be able to follow two-part instructions such as ‘'Get your teddy and put it on the chair'’.
Don’t forget: Children learn at different rates. Some are fast learners and others are slower, so it is best not to compare one child's speech and language development with another's. The important thing for parents to watch is that speech and language development proceeds steadily, not whether it is fast or slow.
When to seek the help of a speech pathologist:
· If a child appears disinterested in communicating with other people, doesn’t demonstrate joint attention or responds to what others are saying by echoing all or part of it back to them word-for-word.
· When an eighteen-month-old isn’t communicating and they’re not starting to use words
· When a two-year-old has less than fifty words and is not putting two words together into small phrases
· When a four-year-old has speech that continues to be difficult to understand
· If a child reaches eight years old or later, and continues to demonstrate persistent speech production difficulties
All children make predictable pronunciation errors when they are learning to talk like adults. These are often referred to by speech pathologist as “phonological errors”. It is important to remember that many of the phonological errors your child produces are normal and appropriate at certain ages.
Here is a summary of typical sound development in children. This can be helpful to use as a guide to determine if your child’s sounds are developmentally appropriate. By eight years old, 90% of children can be expected to produce all sounds correctly.
What do I do if I don’t understand my child?
As adult speakers we constantly make little mistakes when we talk, and then quickly correct them, almost without noticing. Children with speech sound errors are not very good ‘correctors” as it is hard for them to self-monitor their speech. The following strategies can be used to encourage your child to self-monitor.
Talk about “fixing up” sounds For example: You might say to your child, "If I said ‘yam’ when I should have said ‘lamb’, I would have to fix it up. So if I said, ‘Mary had a little yam’, I would have to fix it up and say, ‘Mary had a little lamb'".
Emphasise self- corrections Do this by drawing attention to corrections and commenting when they are made spontaneously (i.e., without adult prompting). For example: You could say to your child, "That was a good fixed-up-one. First you said ‘tar’, and then you fixed it up all by yourself and said ‘car’. The best thing was that you reminded yourself!"
Talk about “making sense” when we talk As opportunities arise, talk about words, and the need to say the right word so that people know what we mean. For example: You could say to your child, "You couldn’t say, ‘I eat my dinner with a walk’, could you? People would get mixed up if I said that. I really should say, ‘eat it with a fork’".
Model corrections in conversation Modelling is simply giving a clear example with no additional instructions, explanations or demands. When you notice a sound error, you might repeat the word correctly yourself, once, twice or three times in the context of the conversation. For example:
Child: Look, Mum! There’s a gog! Adult: Yes, a there’s a dog. He’s a little dog, isn’t he! A black dog! I wonder if that dog has a name? When modelling corrections remember:
1. Don’t distort the sound or word by over-emphasising it (eg. Duuhh-og. It is better to draw the sound or word to the child’s attention by saying it repeatedly.
2. Don’t ask your child to repeat the word back to you correctly. All you need to do is say the word clearly several times, in a way your child will notice.