Speech Sound Development

Speech sounds develop in a particular order, following a developmental pattern in a typically developing pupil. However, it is important to recognise that certain factors will influence the outcome for speech sound development.

Factors affecting speech sound development are the pupil’s…

  • cognitive ability
  • oral structure
  • motor function e.g. ability to make and sequence tongue, soft palate, lip and jaw movements
  • breath support and control
  • level of self awareness
  • level of self motivation
  • attention, listening and phonological awareness

Typical pattern of speech sound development

SoundSound is usually established
 In 50% of pupils by:In 90% of pupils by:
Common vowels1 ½ to 2 yrs3 yrs
p b m t d n w1 ½ to 2 yrs3 yrs
k g f h y2 ½ to 3 yrs4 yrs
ng s2 ½ to 3 yrs5 yrs
l3 to 3 ½ yrs6 yrs
sh ch j z v3 ½ to 4 ½ yrs6 yrs
r4 ½ to 5 yrs7 yrs
th as in ‘thin’4 ½ to 5 yrs7 yrs
th as in ‘the’4 ½ to 5 yrs7 yrs
zh as in ‘treasure’4 ½ to 5 yrs7 yrs

Consonants are first used by themselves at the beginning and later at the end or in the middle of words. For example ‘n’ would usually appear first at the beginning of words like ‘no’, later at the ends of words like ‘gone’ and finally in the middles of words like ‘dinner’.

Once single consonants are established and used confidently, pupils begin to put them into groups (blends or clusters) at the beginning of words, e.g. blue, cry, frog. It will take longer for these sounds to appear at the ends of words or in the middle.

The development of consonant blends

Sound blendsSound is usually established
 In 50% of pupils by:In 90% of pupils by:
Used at the beginning of words
bl cl fl gl pl kw br kr dr fr gr pr tr
4 to 4 ½ yrs7 to 7 ½ yrs
Used at the end of words
ks ls ms ps ts vs
4 to 4 ½ yrs7 to 7 ½ yrs
Used at the beginning or end of words
sp sm sn sk sl sw s
5 yrs8 yrs
Used at the beginning or in the middle of words
str skr spl thr shr
5 ½ yrs plus8 ½ yrs

Pupils with additional difficulties may reach all or some of these targets much later or not at all. Coexisting issues need to be taken into account in order to determine whether focusing on speech sound development is likely to be productive and improve functional communication in the long-term.

In these instances, discussion with the Speech and Language Therapist may be helpful.

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Last updated: 5 November 2015

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