What Causes Pronunciation Problems Among Small Children?

Pronunciation is the most common speech problem that parents notice in children, according to an article from “Parents Teaching Overseas” published on the International Children’s Education website 1. Small children, in particular, often substitute sounds or leave sounds out of words. While most kids speak clearly by the time they reach school age, your child may require speech therapy intervention if he continues to mispronounce words by the time he is 6 or 7 years old.

Where a Sound Is Made

A child who continues to have trouble pronouncing sounds correctly as she gets older may have a speech disorder, says the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association 234. Parents can look for certain signs to determine whether a child’s speech problem is serious enough to need a speech therapist. For example, some children have problems based on where the sounds are made. Sounds a child pronounces toward the front of the mouth are usually the first and easiest to make. These sounds include m, n, p, b, t and d. Sounds like l, r, s and th, for which a child needs to use her tongue, are harder sounds to pronounce.

Placement in Words

The position of a sound within a word can affect a child’s pronunciation. Sounds that appear at the beginning of words are typically the easiest to pronounce. Mastering sounds at the end of words usually comes next, while consonant sounds and letter blends in the middle of words aren't as easy for some children to get out. A letter like “r” that has many blended sound combinations can be more difficult for a child to say clearly. In a guest blog post for Mommy Speech Therapy, author and speech-language therapist Christine Ristuccia suggests when parents help children practice difficult letter sounds or blends, kids should keep repeating the same sound in the same word position until they pronounce it correctly.

Sounds Development

By age 3, most children can make vowel sounds and pronounce the consonants p, b, m, n, d, g and h. At ages 4 and 5, a child should be able to pronounce more complex consonant and blend sounds like k, t, f, v, j, th, ng, ch and sh. If pronunciation problems continue after your child enters grade school, talk to his pediatrician or a school counselor about a referral to a speech therapist. The ASHA reports that while it’s common for young children to make mistakes in speech, by the time kids are 8 years old, they should be able to correctly articulate all sounds in English.

Speech Problems

As long as a child shows continuous progress, pronouncing words wrong some of the time is normal. But if your child continues to mispronounce many words and shows no improvement, she could have a problem. Her doctor may refer her to an audiologist who will test her hearing. KidsHealth points out that some speech problems also are caused by tongue or palate problems, developmental delays or oral-motor problems. An oral-motor problem has to do with how a child moves his tongue, lips and palate to make sounds.

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