Sounds on the Way to Speech
Children have different rates of learning, and their ability to speak and communicate is often regarded as a measure of their overall ability. Most children learn to speak as they hear people around them talking, but how do parents know if their child’s speech development is adequate for his age?
Children’s Verbal Ability
Many people often measure their child’s abilities from the time they are born, by the way they communicate, such that a child who is able to speak clearly and interact intelligibly is thought to be smart. On the other hand, when a child has difficulties pronouncing words, or making sense of what he is trying to communicate especially at a later age, parents may get worried about what could be the problem. For these reasons, it's important to understand the speech goals for a child that is beginning to learn to say sounds.
Knowing what speech sound norms are and how a properly organized speech sound system develops in children can guide parents and teachers on what to expect from children in terms of verbal ability according to age. Furthermore, parents must learn to overcome their own difficulties in teaching their children how to learn to speak in language that is understandable.
Speech Sound Development
According to Dr Caroline Bowen, a speech-language pathologist, the process of acquiring adult speech patterns, or a properly organized speech sound system, involves three phases:
- The way sound is stored in a child’s mind.
- The way sound is actually said by a child.
- The processes that relate the two above.
Assuming that a child has no hearing impediments, he processes the sounds that he hears as his brain develops and learns to say these sounds along with the physical maturation of his anatomical features, such as the tongue, the palate, the teeth, etc.
Although children do not always learn the same things at the same rate, there is a general rule of thumb for how clearly a child should be speaking at a certain age. For example, at the age of 18 months a child's speech is expected to be 25 percent understandable, and about 75-100 percent understandable by the age of three.
While kids are learning the adult sound-system, there are some normal deviations or errors they make that are predictable, such as pronouncing “pig" as "big", or "kiss" as "tiss". These are expected, with variations, to improve after the age of three years and may be eliminated by the time a child is five.
In other words, these are the speech goals to look toward when a child is beginning to learn to say sounds. Parents have a big role in guiding their child’s speech development since their voice is the most familiar sound a child can learn from the time they are born.
Although communication between a parent and child is instinctive, teaching speech and language to improve a child's communication skills can pose some challenges to many parents.
Magan Chen, a registered Certified Practicing Speech Language Pathologist, cites the three most common challenges parents with children from preschool to secondary school age face:
- "I don't know how to teach."
- “I can't get my child's attention."
- "I have no time."
Although most children learn their speech from their environment spontaneously, without parents' deliberate attempts to 'teach' them, it is not right to assume that a child who does not speak at an expected age is just 'slow', and that it is just a matter of time for him to learn how to speak. Parents must therefore take an active role in teaching their kids to learn words and speak them.
Achieving Speech Goals
To help children accomplish the normal speech sounds expected for their age, parents have to start guiding them from birth. Here are a few tips on helping a child that is beginning to learn to say sounds.
For babies up to one year old:
- Show your baby that what she is saying has meaning and importance to you by answering back her coos and gurgles.
- By getting her to look at you, talking, touching and smiling become a meaningful form of communication.
- Do the naming game by talking and touching an object or body part and naming it. When she hears you naming something over and over again, she begins to connect the sound with what it means.
- Do things that interest your baby using various tones of voice, funny faces, singing lullabies, and reciting simple nursery rhymes.
- Read to your baby several times a day for a few minutes, such as before bedtime, after meals and while in the park. Point out and name things in the pictures over and over, encouraging her to repeat after you.
For children one to six years old:
- Talking to kids helps them develop language skills and lets them know that what they say is important to you.
- For toddlers, ask them to name or find different objects, colors, sizes, and shapes. Do these while feeding, bathing, dressing, walking, and incorporating language learning into any activity.
- While reading a story or poem, ask your child to listen and say the words that begin with the same sound. Then let him think of and say another word that begins with the sound.
- Teach your child to hear and say repeating words and phrases, such as this example from The Three Little Pigs:
Wolf Voice: Little pig, little pig, let me come in.
Little Pig: Not by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin!
Wolf Voice: Then I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house in!
With these exercises, parents can help achieve the speech goals for a child that is beginning to learn to say sounds.
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