Teaching your child

Language and speech development are different skills

Language and speech development are different skills


"I'm fee and Tristan's 7."

My husband cast a gentle look in my daughter's direction and said, "Say, 'I'm THRee.'"

She looked at him like he was nuts and repeated, "I'm FEE and Tristan's 7."


"That's what I said, Daddy, 'FEE!'"

My husband took a deep breath and I quickly changed the subject so we could all enjoy the rest of our dinner.

Our 3-year-old is extremely verbal, but she struggles with some sounds, particularly blends.

We've been patiently working with her, and we don't want to expect too much speech development too soon, but we wonder if we should be doing more.


And I thought if we were wondering this, other parents of preschoolers are probably in the same boat.

If your child is having problems, start with the basics, recommends Katherine Gibson, speech-language pathologist for Total Rehab Care at Robinwood. Show your child in a mirror - without making any sound - what his mouth and tongue need to do to make a sound he is struggling with, Gibson says.

Then isolate the sound from the word. For example, say, "th," "th," "th," with your child until he gets it. Then add it to a word.

"If parents take the time to show their children how to make the sound, most kids will get it," Gibson says. "The biggest mistake parents make is trying to do too much too soon."

To relieve my concerns, Gibson says the "th" sound can come in as late as age 5.

"Be patient," Gibson says. "A lot of parents get frustrated. They're worried about kids starting school and getting made fun of. Be a really good speech model and that will help."

It's important to understand the difference between articulation and language development, says Carol Ann Day, speech-language pathologist for Washington County Public Schools.

Articulation is the development of specific sounds. Language is putting thoughts into words.

Many times a child's struggles can be traced to chronic hearing problems, Day says.

If your child is prone to ear infections, have those taken care of, she recommends.

Excessive pacifier use beyond the infant age may also impede speech and language development, Day says.

She cringes when she sees toddlers with pacifiers.

"I think that is a bad thing," Day says. "You can't talk when you have a pacifier in your mouth."

Plus, a child who is used to sucking on a pacifier tends to have forward tongue carriage, which can interfere with pronunciation.


These are things parents should be concerned about:

  • Not talking at all by the age of 2.

  • Speech is difficult to understand after the age of 3.

  • Leaving off the beginning or ending sounds of a word after the age of 3. For example, if "dog" comes out sounding like "dah" or "bark" comes out as "ark." If a child is saying "oo ie" for "cookie," between the ages of 3 and 4, that's not typical, Day says.

These are "Speech and Sound Acquisition Ages" or the ages at which children should be using sounds well, according to an article on speech and language development by Diane Hansen and Sherril R. Howard published by Speech Bin in 1992:

Age 2: Vowels, and M, P, H, N.

Age 3: D, W, B.

Age 4: Y, F, K, G.

Age 5+: R, L, S, Z, V, J, Ch, Th, Sh and blends.

Some problems Day sees in kindergartners include:

  • Using "w" instead of "l" or "r"," as in "wike" instead of "like" or "wed" instead of "red."

  • Some children this age also talk with a lisp, where the tongue protrudes between the teeth, slurring the "s" and "z."

  • Using "f" instead of "th," as in "baff" instead of "bath."

    Here are ways to help your child's speech and language:

  • Don't use baby talk. Don't talk down to them.

  • Read to them a lot. Use story books with big, color pictures. Have them point to the pictures.

  • Don't anticipate your children's needs. Make them use words to ask for what they want.

  • Use slow, clear words when you talk to your child.

  • Rather than correct the child, repeat what he said, using the correct sound.

    If you're concerned about your child's speech and language development, contact:

  • Early Intervention, for those younger than 3, 301-766-8217.

  • Special Education Child Find, for ages 3 to kindergarten and nonpublic school children, 301-766-2971.

  • For school-age children, contact the principal of your school.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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