Children learn to speak at a very young age, and while speech sound development often follows a predictable pattern, each child’s speech development with vary. This speech sound development chart can help caregivers and speech-language pathologists determine if a child’s speech is on track and help make decisions about when a child needs speech therapy.
Speech Sound Development
Recently, a cross-linguistic review by McLeod and Crowe (2018) reviewed 64 studies from 31 countries to analyze the development of speech sounds across multiple languages.
Further analysis of this data was done across 15 studies of 18,907 children for English in the United States (Crowe and McLeod, 2020). The analysis reported the following:
Children are able to produce English speech sounds relatively early, with most sounds acquired by 4 years of age, and almost all speech sounds typically acquired by the age of 6.
Keep in mind that even though most children will acquire all English sounds by the age of 6, speech continues to develop beyond this age as many children learn to correctly say each sound in connected speech (when having a conversation or speaking to a group of people).
What Speech Sounds Develop at What Ages?
Most speech sounds develop between the ages 2 to 6 years old (though speech can develop before and after these ages as well). The 24 English speech sounds can be broken up into early, middle, and late developing sounds.
Early sounds are typically easy for a young child to produce and are learned by age 3. Middle sounds are acquired next, and are learned by age 4. Finally, four speech sounds are considered late-developing sounds, and these usually aren’t acquired until the age of 6.
Early 13 Sounds (Ages 2-4)
The first “early 13” speech sounds that children learn include:
- B, N, M, P, H, W, D, G, K, F, T, NG, and Y.
Middle 7 Sounds (Age 4-5)
The next “middle 7” speech sounds that children learn include:
- V, J, S, CH, L, SH, and Z.
Late 4 Sounds (Ages 5-7)
Finally, the last “late 4” speech sounds that children learn include:
- R, Voiced TH, ZH, and Voiceless TH.
Speech Sound Development Chart
This speech sound development chart is a helpful visual guide to gauge how “on track” children are with developing speech in comparison to other children their same age.
Click on the image below for a printable PDF of the speech sound development chart. Scroll below for further information on speech sound development by age.
Speech Sound Development By Age
To get an even more specific view of speech sound development by age, let’s break these speech sounds further by each year of development.
The following sections include the average age at which 90% of children acquire English speech sounds. Keep in mind, that there is variability in when children acquire speech. This list should be used as a basic guide to help determine if a child’s speech is developing appropriately.
A quick note on intelligibility: The intelligibility noted below is how much speech (in sentences) an unfamiliar listener can understand. An unfamiliar listener is someone who does not listen to the child on a regular basis.
2-3 Years (24-35 months)
Toddlers are often difficult to understand, as they are learning the different speech sounds and how to communicate with others. Two-year-olds still make many speech errors, and these are considered developmentally appropriate, but they should be able to say relatively simple speech sounds.
Intelligibility: Children should be at least 15% intelligible at 3 years old.
By the time a child turns 3 years old, they should correctly produce the following sounds:
- P. (As in pay, open, and cup.)
- B. (As in boy, robot, and tub.)
- D. (As in dog, radio, and sad.)
- M. (As in mop, lemon, and jam.)
- N. (As in nose, pony, and pin.)
- H. (As in ham, behind, and forehead.)
- W. (As in web, awake, and cow.)
3-4 Years (36-47 months)
Young preschoolers are continuing to learn many speech sounds, and they are becoming easier to understand. Speech errors are still common and appropriate at this age, but 13 total speech sounds should now be said correctly.
Intelligibility: Children should be 50% intelligible at 4 years old.
By the time a child turns 4 years old, they should correctly produce the following sounds:
- T. (As in top, water, and hat.)
- K. (As in kiss, baker, and book.)
- G. (As in gum, wagon, and log.)
- NG. (As in hanger, and swing.)
- F. (As in fan, sofa, and leaf.)
- Y. (As in yes, canyon, and royal.)
4-5 Years (48-59 months)
An older preschooler’s speech should include most speech sounds, though a few errors are still developmentally appropriate (like saying “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “fumb” for “thumb.”).
Intelligibility: Children should be 75% intelligible at 5 years old.
By the time a child turns 5 years old, they should correctly produce the following sounds:
- V. (As in van, seven, and five. )
- S. (As in sun, messy, and yes)
- Z. (As in zoo, lizard, and buzz.)
- SH. (As in shoe, washing, and fish. )
- CH. (As in chin, teacher, and peach.)
- J. (As in jump, banjo, and cage.)
- L. (As in lid, salad, and hill.)
5-6 Years (60-71 months)
As a child enters grade school, their speech continues to improve and correctly saying speech sounds will be important to their success in school and their ability to read. Few errors in speech are now considered developmentally appropriate.
Intelligibility: Children should be 80% intelligible at 6 years old.
By the time a child turns 6 years old, they should correctly produce the following sounds:
- Voiced TH. (As in they, weather, and bathe.)
- ZH. (As in measure, vision, and garage.)
- R. (As in run, zero, and far.)
6-7 Years (72-83 months)
A child’s speech at this age should be continually improving, with one final sound learned when they are 6 years old. By the time a child reaches their 7th birthday, most will be saying all speech sounds correct, and you should be able to understand almost everything they say.
Intelligibility: Children should be 90% intelligible a little past 7 years old.
By the time a child turns 7 years old, they should correctly produce the following sound:
- Voiceless TH. (As in think, python, and math.)
What if My Child Hasn’t Reached These Speech Sound Milestones?
These milestones are a good place to start to help track your child’s speech development. If your child isn’t correctly saying speech sounds at the ages specified above and you are concerned about their speech, reach out to a speech-language pathologist.
Remember! These speech sound milestones are to be used as a general guide to help you determine if your child’s speech is developing appropriately. These norms are only one piece of the puzzle in determining if a child’s speech is delayed and if may benefit from speech therapy. They are not set-in-stone “cut-off” ages for when your child should be perfectly saying each speech sound in conversation.
If you have concerns about your child’s speech, please contact us or speak with a local speech-language pathologist for further information and recommendations.
Crowe, K., & McLeod, S. (2020). Children’s English consonant acquisition in the United States: A review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_AJSLP-19-00168
Hustad, K.C., Mahr, T.J., Natzke, P., & Rathouz, P.J. (2021). Speech development between 30 and 119 months in typical children I: Intelligibility growth curves for single-word and multiword productions. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. https://doi.org/10.1044/2021_JSLHR-21-00142
McLeod, S., & Crowe, K. (2018). Children’s consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. https://doi.org/10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0100