Speech Sounds

Private Speech Pathologists Association of WA

What are Speech Sounds?

Speech is the process of physically producing sounds with the tongue, lips, teeth, palate and jaw for communication. These sounds are stored in a system in our minds, and combined quickly and precisely to form words and sentences when speaking.

What is a Speech Sound Problem?

Sounds are learned in a developmental sequence, common to most children. All children make sound errors as they learn to talk and begin to organise their speech sound system. A person has a speech sound problem when he or she pronounces sounds, syllables or words incorrectly or later than developmentally expected. This may mean that listeners do not understand what is being said or think that the speaker sounds unusual.

What Are Some Types of Speech Sound Errors?

Most speech sound errors in children form a pattern, often typical of younger speakers. For example, children up to the age of 3½ years commonly change the sounds “k/c” and “g”, saying them at the front of the mouth to become “t” and “d” (E.g. Cat is said as “tat”). As this pattern usually resolves by the age of 3½ years, it is only considered a problem if it persists beyond this age.
Some children have more significant difficulties making the mouth movements or sequencing the sounds together that are required for speech, even though they have no physical weakness. This may lead to disrupted prosody (i.e. rhythm and intonation) in their speech, and distortion of sounds in way not typical of English speakers. Children with these difficulties may have Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) and will require a detailed assessment by a Speech Pathologist to determine this diagnosis.
Adults may make speech sound errors following brain damage resulting from a head injury, stroke, or other neurological conditions. These errors may sound like slurring, from muscle weakness (dysarthria) or may take the form of incorrect sounds in words due to a break down in speech planning (apraxia).

What Causes a Speech Sound Problem?

Speech sound problems in children may result from physical causes, such as cerebral palsy, cleft palate, dental problems or hearing loss. However, most children’s speech sound problems occur without any obvious physical disability or known cause.
Adult speech sound problems may carry over from childhood. However, those that are acquired in adulthood usually have some type of neurological cause, such as head injury, stroke, Motor Neuron Disease, Parkinson’s Disease or Huntington’s Disease.

Is an Accent a Speech Sound Problem?

We all have accents – regional or ethnic. An accent may be a problem if it interferes with a person’s goals in life, but usually an accent is not considered speech sound problem. Some Speech Pathologists assist with accent reduction.

How Can I Help a Child Pronounce Words Correctly?

You can do this firstly by setting a good example. Don’t interrupt or constantly correct the child. Don’t let anyone tease or mock (including friends or relatives).
If your child has said a word incorrectly, repeat the word correctly, with emphasis on the difficult sound. For example, if the child says “When tan I ride in the tar?” You could reply, “When can you ride in the car? In a minute. It’s a cool car, isn’t it?”
Assessment by a Speech Pathologist will provide a profile of your child’s speech sound patterns, and an indication of whether intervention is necessary.

Can an Adult With a Speech Sound Problem Be Helped?

Most speech sound problems can be helped regardless of a person’s age. However, the longer the problem persists, the harder it is to change. Some problems, such as those with a neurological cause, are particularly difficult and will require a longer period of intervention than other disorders. Other conditions that may influence progress in a child or adult include hearing ability, condition of the oral structures such as the teeth, frequency of intervention, motivation, intelligence, and cooperation.

Terms That May be Used in the Topic of Speech Sound Difficulties

Articulation, phonology, pronunciation, dyspraxia, childhood apraxia of speech, dysarthria, slurring, lisping, lateral lisp.

Further Information

information about symptoms of dyspraxia/childhood apraxia of speech, assessment and intervention.

information about speech sound disorders, diagnosis and intervention.

information about speech sound disorders as well as handouts, resources and information for parents.