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Why Speech Sounds Are Not Enough

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

Speech is the way we sound when we talk, so it’s not a huge surprise that the specific sounds children make (or don’t make) impact their overall communication and are often used as a marker of speech skills. A study by McLeod and Crowe in 2018 outlined the sounds that are mastered in each year of development from 2 to 6 years of age. These summaries are called ‘speech sound norms’. If you want to this outline, check out my blog post on that study here.

Although speech sound norms are an easy point of reference for parents and educators, it should not be the only area consulted when assessing a child’s speech. The description of sounds mastered at a certain age describes articulation - the actual physical movement a child does to produce a specific sound. So, why is articulation not enough?

First off, many children, especially preschool and young school age children, demonstrate phonological delays. Easily confused with articulation delays, phonological delays are when a child has difficulty with an entire group of sounds or sound patterns. For example, a child may delete the last sound of words (aka final consonant deletion; e.g., ‘toh’ for ‘top’, ‘he’ for ‘heat’) or a child may make all the long sounds into shorter sounds (aka stopping; e.g., ‘tee’ for ‘see’; ‘wat’ for ‘wash’, ‘pun’ for ‘fun’).

In addition, children sometimes struggle with many sounds above what is ‘required’ of their age, have inconsistent errors, have a fast rate of speech, or seem to mumble. Although they may look like they are ‘on track’ by looking at the speech sound norms, they are extremely difficult to understand (aka low intelligibility). Guidelines for how much of what your child says that should be able to be understood by others is as follows:

Intelligibility | speech language pathology programs canada, slp programs canada, speech and language pathology, speech and language therapist, Ontario Canada
Bowen, C. (2011). Table 1: Intelligibility. Retrieved from on 16 April 2019.

Lastly, speech sound norms do not capture how a child’s speech sound disorder may be impacting their social-emotional functioning. Children may not play as much with peers, be bullied or feel self-conscious about how they sound or look when they talk. It is extremely important that this is taken into account when assessing their speech.

The outlines of speech sounds acquired at different ages are great for parents and educators to reference quickly and flag any easy to notice difficulties. They are also great for advocating for earlier intervention. Before this study was published, some speech-language pathology materials referenced certain speech sounds, like /r/, not needing to be mastered until age 8 or 9! This blog hinted at a few different areas that should be included in a thorough speech assessment but my arsenal of things I do for a speech assessment will be featured in my next blog post! Subscribe below so that you get a notification when this next blog is posted!


McLeod & Crowe (2018). Children’s Consonant Acquisition Across 27 Languages: A Cross-

Linguistic Review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27(4), 1546-1571.

Bowen, C. (2011). Table1: Intelligibility. Retrieved from

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