Speech sound development

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Here is a guide to how children’s speech usually develops. Speech development may vary across languages.

Early, middle and later speech sounds

This helps us think about the order that children learn to say speech sounds.

Early (18 mths – 3 yrs)

m n y b w d p h

Middle (2 – 6 yrs)

t ng (talking) k g f v ch j

Later (3 – 8 yrs)

sh zh (measure) l r s z
th (think) th (that)

The chart above describes the approximate order that children’s speech sounds develop. Speech sounds develop from the time the child starts using words until the early years at school. Although the age range extends to 8 years, most children will be using these sounds earlier than that. (Based on Shriberg, 1993) 1

Speech intelligibility

Children’s speech generally gets easier to understand as they get older. Here’s a guide:

  • By 2 years of age children can be understood by familiar adults most of the time

  • By 3 years of age children can be understood by unfamiliar adults most of the time

  • By 4 years of age children can be understood by unfamiliar adults almost all of the time

  • By 5 years of age children can be understood by unfamiliar adults all of the time

(Based on Flipsen Jr, 2006)2


  • show your child that you are interested in what they say, not how they say it

  • help your child to learn how to say tricky sounds by repeating them correctly as naturally as possible; for example, child says "bish" and you say "yes it’s a big fish, isn’t it?"

  • get face to face with your child so that they can watch the way you say words


  1. Shriberg, L.D. (1993). Four new speech and prosody-voice measures for genetics research and other studies in developmental phonological disorders. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, (36), 105-140.

  2. Flipsen, P., Jr (2006). Measuring the speech intelligibility of conversational speech in children. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, (20) 4, 303-312.


The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and adapted from Much more than words | Manuka takoto, kawea ake (2014).

This page last reviewed 30 April 2015
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Printed on 26 September 2016. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
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