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I cannot understand what my child is saying, should I be concerned?



Speech development in toddlers and children

Lips, teeth, nose, palate, tongue, cheeks, lungs- these are all body parts that every person uses for speaking!


Learning to speak is a crucial part of a child’s development and the most intensive period of speech and language development happens in the first three years of life.


Babies: 0-1 year

During their first year, children develop the ability to hear and recognise the sounds of their parents’ language. They experiment with sounds by babbling (e.g. “baba”, “babamada”), and over time, their babbling begins to sound more and more like real words. Between 9-12 months babies communicate by babbling, using more sounds (e.g. d, m, n, h, w, t) and around 12 months babies begin to use some words.


Toddlers: 1-3 years

Toddlers experience a huge development in speech sounds and triple the number of words they can say between 1 and 2 years of age. As a result, their speech becomes easier to understand.


At 2 years, 50% of their speech should be understood, and at 3 years, approximately 75% of their speech should be understood by family and friends.


What can most toddlers do?

- By 2 years, toddlers can say a range of speech sounds when talking (e.g. p, b, m, t, d, n, h, w)

- By 3 years, toddlers can say even more sounds (e.g. k, g, f, s, ng)


Preschool and School aged years

The year before a child starts school is extremely important for speech development. There is a strong link between speech sounds articulation and academic success. For instance, in kindergarten, children have early words to learn to spell and read. If your child is not able to say specific sounds clearly, this may affect their spelling. The word is ‘cat’, they say ‘tat’. They sound out t-a-t, and they will write what they say.


By the age of 4, 90-100% of your child’s speech should be understood by an unfamiliar listener.


What can parents do to help?

Parents can continue to help their children’s speech development by modelling the correct way of saying words, particularly when children make occasional sound errors. However, if a child’s speech is very difficult for parents to understand, or if children are using gestures (and grunts) in place of words, parents should contact a speech pathologist for further advice. If parents are concerned about their child’s speech development, they are advised to have their child’s hearing checked by an audiologist, as hearing is important in learning how to say sounds correctly.


If you are worried about your child’s speech, if your child sounds different to the ages and stages outlined or if your three or four-year-old cannot be understood by adults, you may need to seek help from a speech pathologist. A speech pathologist has been professionally trained to advise, diagnose and work with adults and children who have difficulty in communicating.


Feel free to contact us here or call our Speech Pathologist, Ahlam Hussein, on 0478 940 120, if you have concerns about your child’s speech or if you would like to discuss your child’s speech, language, and literacy development.

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