Concerned about your child’s unclear speech?
When should you be concerned about your child’s speech being unclear? It is typical that when a child is just starting to talk, the sounds are not clear. However, when it remains unclear compared to his or her peers, should one be concerned?
Just so that we are on the same page, speech refers to the sounds made. Language generally refers to words.
Speech Sound Development
When the first words are spoken, they can sometimes sound unclear, especially to others outside home environment. For example, a child might say “pis” for fish, or “tea” when he means “key”. In fact, between the ages of 1-2 years old, non-family members may only understand 25% of what is being said by a child that age.
As they grow older, children learn to produce the sounds needed in their native languages. Interestingly, children are able to produce the sounds of the languages they are exposed to. By the time children are 3 years old, their speech sounds are mostly developed and they can be understood by non-familiar persons at least 75% of the time. By 4 years of age, their articulation should be as good as that of an adult.
What are the common problems?
Common problems in young children include
- substituting sounds (e.g. “f” sounds are produced as “p”, “s” is produced as “t”, or “k/ c” sounds are produced as “t”)
- omitting sounds (e.g. “stop” is produced as “top” or “sop”, “Bread” sounds like “bed”, or “plane” sounds like “pain”)
- words endings are missing (e.g. “bus” sounds like “ba”, “house” sounds like “how”, or “book” sounds like “boo”)
If your child’s speech is unclear, or your child continues to have difficulties producing sounds, it is important address these. Unclear speech in young children should be monitored closely as there may be other underlying causes.
Tips for addressing unclear speech
1. Model – Acknowledge your child’s output and then model the way to say it. Say the target word slightly more deliberately and clearly, but refrain from getting your child to repeat the word. So you might say “Yes, I see the FISH too!”
2. Look at you – Getting your child to look at how you produce the sounds of the word might help. It helps to get down to their level when communicating with children so they can be face- to- face with you, and this might help them see how you make the sounds of the words.
Avoid over doing it as it might reduce the pleasure of communicating with you.
3. Help them check themselves – sometimes a playful manner would help your child become more aware of the need to be more clear when talking. For example, if your child says “tea” for “key”, you might ask if they wanted “TEA”? Then offer the options – “did you mean TEA or KEY”? Then model the right way to say it and see if they can self correct.
Why does it not get clearer?
Speech sound problems can occur in children with hearing difficulties. It might help to get hearing tested.
Most children with persistent speech sound difficulties have been found to have other communication difficulties, such as difficulties expressing or understanding.
The video below may help explain this and you may also find this information on other speech therapy related websites.
Still Concerned about unclear speech?
You can also check out our post on whether you should wait and see or seek help.
If you are concerned, call us to speak to one of our friendly and experienced speech therapists for a free phone consultation.