Speech Sounds

Learning to speak clearly involves:

  • Being able to hear and identify different speech sounds
  • Being able to produce specific sounds
  • Being able to sequence sounds and syllables within words

Some children appear to speak clearly very quickly, and others develop sounds more gradually, but most will develop clear speech by the time they are reception age (although mild speech immaturities may still occur up to the age of 7 years old, such as producing the /r/ sound as a ‘w’, or difficulties with more complex blends e.g. ‘straw’ or ‘squirrel’)

Children who are developing speech typically, but more slowly than their peers, are said to have a speech sound delay.

Typical error patterns that children may get ‘stuck’ on include:

  • Producing ‘long’ sounds as ‘short’ sounds e.g. ‘dun’ for sun, ‘bork’ for fork, or ‘deep’ for sheep
  • Producing sounds we make at the back of the mouth, at the front of the mouth e.g. ‘tar’ for car or ‘dirl’ for girl
  • Simplifying consonant blends e.g. ‘nail’ for snail or ‘geen’ for green

Occasionally, children may have more significant and persistent difficulties learning and developing speech sounds, and these children will need more specialist support.  Indicators of more significant speech needs include:

  • Vowel errors
  • The child’s speech sounds ‘unusual’, or is often very difficult to understand or tune into
  • Parents or close family may struggle to understand them
  • The child makes inconsistent speech errors, and may say the same word in different ways
  • The child doesn’t make expected progress with universal or targeted support

The following ideas can help children with unclear speech:

  • Avoid correcting speech errors, but instead model back a word correctly e.g. if they say ‘tat‘ for cat, you could say ‘That’s right, a cat’
  • Build speech sound awareness skills, such as clapping words into syllables, and finding words beginning with the same sound
  • Encourage them to use other ways to communicate alongside speech, such as gestures or signs, pointing to something, drawing etc.
  • Use context. Home/school books can be useful, where parents can write about what the child has been doing at home or over the weekend, which the child can then share in class. Encourage them to bring in a photo or item as a point of reference for discussion.

Useful websites:

ICAN Talking Point – support for parents and professionals

www.speechandlanguage.info/parents – provides information for what to expect at different ages, and also some activities and interactive games for developing speech sound awareness skills

www.mommyspeechtherapy.com – worksheets and an articulation (speech sound) screener

www.twinkl.co.uk/resources/inclusion-teaching-resources/speech-language-and-communication-areas-of-need-primary-send-inclusion-teaching-resources/speech-pronunciations-and-fluency-skills-salt-inclusion – a wide range of worksheets and activities

Links to resources and activities:

Phonological (speech sound) Awareness pack– practical ideas and some resources

Input modelling handout – ideas for how to produce specific sounds

Helping children use target sounds in their talking – how to gradually help children move from saying a sound on it’s own to using it in their everyday talking

Useful Documents:

Teacher Questionnaire for Speech