Speech Sound Development

Speech Sound Development

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. 

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

What are early, middle and later speech sounds?

Early, middle and later speech sounds help us think about the order that children learn to say speech sounds.

Here is the approximate order that children's speech sounds develop. They develop from the time a 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 that1.

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 zth (think) th (that)

How will my child's speech develop?

Children's speech generally gets easier to understand as they get older. Here's a guide2:

  • 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

What are some tips to help my child's speech development?

  • 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, if your 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.

If you would like to look at anything in more detail, this listing of references might be a good starting point.

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) (PDF, 565KB)

This page last reviewed 17 November 2020.
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