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When should you worry about your ...

When should you worry about your toddler's speech milestones? Which sounds should they be using for sure, and which ones will come with time?

submitted by js, me, Washington state
(December 2, 2008 - 12:10 am)

As a parent, you are more closely tuned in to your toddler’s language development than anyone else. You see your child in all sorts of situations and know how he or she responds to other children, as well as how his or her growth compares with theirs. I suggest that you take your time and continue to observe your toddler in a range of settings for a while longer. That way, if you’re still concerned, you'll have information to guide you when you approach your child’s pediatrician and the screening services in your local school district.

If it does happen that your child has a problem, it’s better to get therapy early when it will do the most good. Most speech and language therapists agree that children who receive help in their toddler years improve faster.

As for your specific question about which sounds a toddler should be using for sure, and which will come with time, it’s good to keep in mind that in young children the acquisition of speech varies more than any other area of development. In fact, the pace at which children learn to pronounce sounds can differ by many months. By age 2, however, most children use vowel sounds comfortably, and it’s generally agreed that over the next year they’ll master p, m, h, n, and w. By age 4, listen for b, k, g, d, f, and y.

Other sounds are added each year, until at age 8 the majority of children can pronounce most of the sounds of the English language. Thus, even 7-year-olds aren’t expected to pronounce all sounds correctly.

In addition, toddlers often drop final consonants or omit sounds that are still difficult to pronounce. It’s not unusual for them to invent words that don’t sound much like adult words but have definite and consistent meanings. Usually the toddler’s family can understand these words, though they may mystify others. Such words, known as protowords, are an expected and often charming stage in language development.

No matter where your child is in the process of acquiring language, it helps to keep in mind that children learn to talk when they are listened to. Respond to your child’s message rather than his pronunciation, and he’ll be encouraged to continue communicating.

submitted by Sally Nurss, M.Ed.
(December 16, 2008 - 12:11 pm)