Enunciation Problems of Toddlers

By Sharon Perkins
Toddlers are often hard to understand when they first begin talking.
Toddlers are often hard to understand when they first begin talking.

A lisp or other enunciation problems are cute when your toddler first begins to talk, but when these issues don't clear up, you might become concerned -- especially if other people have trouble understanding her. By age 2, you should be able to understand around 66 percent of what she says, according to the Child Development Institute. This should increase to 90 percent by age 3. Certain sounds are harder to enunciate than others and are more likely to be mispronounced. Vowels don't usually cause enunciation problems.

Hard-to-Pronounce Sounds

Consonant sounds that are made in the front of the mouth, such as M, N, P, B T or D are the easiest to pronounce, which is why Mama, Dada and Baba are often among your child's first words. Sounds made by placing the tongue in a certain position, such as L, R, S, and Th -- as in the word "the" -- are harder and more likely to be mispronounced or dropped from words. Your toddler might, for example, say "Top" instead of "Stop." Consonants in the middle of words are harder to pronounce than the same letters at the beginning or end of a word.

Typical Mastery of Consonants

By age 3, most kids can enunciate the P, B, M, N, D, G and H sounds. By age 4, most kids have mastered the K, T, Th, F, V, Ng, J and Ch sounds. Correct pronunciation of Sh and Zh, however, usually occurs by age 5, but your little chatterbox might be closer to age 7 before she consistently gets the L, R, S and voiceless Th -- as in the word "thin" -- to sound right most of the time.

Correcting Speech

As adorable as it might seem, it's better not to repeat your child's enunciation errors back to her. It's also not a good idea to put too much emphasis on her mispronunciations. Use the word properly in a sentence. For example, if she says, "Muk, peez" instead of "Milk, please," say back to her, "Here's your milk. And thank you for saying ''please.'" Don't drill your toddler to get her to pronounce words correctly, but model the correct pronunciation, instead. Don't laugh at her mispronunciations; toddlers are smart, and if she thinks she's got a sure-fire way to get your attention, she'll keep repeating the mistake instead of correcting it.

Gettting Help

If your toddler's speech remains garbled or difficult to understand compared to other kids her age, consider having her hearing checked. If the problem isn't in her ears, consider working having her work with a speech therapist. While kids often outgrow typical pronunciation problems, the more pronunciation errors she makes, the less likely she is to outgrow them without professional help.Your local school system of early education system might offer free speech therapy after evaluating your toddler's speech. At home, keep modeling proper pronunciation and don't make your child self-conscious about her speech.

About the Author

A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.