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 or young people 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 and young people who are developing speech typically, but more slowly than their peers, are said to have a speech sound delay.

Typical error patterns that children or young people 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 or young people may have more significant and persistent difficulties learning and developing speech sounds, and these children or young people will need more specialist support.  Indicators of more significant speech needs include:

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

The following ideas can help children or young people 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/carers can write about what the child or young person has been doing at home or over the weekend, which the child or young person 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/carers 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 or young people move from saying a sound on it’s own to using it in their everyday talking

Useful Documents:

Teacher Questionnaire for Speech