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Speech Acquisition - the order that children learn sounds

Humans don’t spring from the womb with speech and language fully formed and ready for comment.


Both of these functions develop a lot over the first five or so years of our lives. We keep learning after this, but the foundations are laid in the early years of our lives.

What is speech?

Speech is essentially the sounds that we make to communicate. We make sounds that go together to make  words. For example, the word ‘dog’ is three sounds ‘d-o-g’.

It turns out that we develop these sounds in a specific order. In fact, a study from McLeod and Crowe (2018) found that the order that we master sounds has a lot in common with over 20 languages. You can read the free access article here if you  are interested. Through their review of over 60 existing research articles, they also found that most children had mastered all of their speech sounds by the age of five.

So, at 4-5 years typically developing children have nearly all of the sounds that they need, and can usually be understood by others, even strangers (McLeod, Crowe, & Shahaeian, 2015).

McLeod, S., & Crowe, K. (2018). Children’s consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27, 1546–1571. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0100

McLeod, S., Crowe, K., & Shahaeian, A. (2015). Intelligibility in Context Scale: Normative and validation data for English-speaking preschoolers. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 46(3), 266-276. doi:10.1044/2015_LSHSS-14-0120

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