Helping Your Toddler Improve Their Speech Sounds

Hearing your child’s first few words are magical moments, and with talking being one of the biggest early years milestones, it can be concerning when you feel that your toddler is not verbally communicating as they should.

What are Speech Sounds?

Speech sounds are the sounds we use for talking. Speech sounds are not the same as letters. For example, the word ‘duck’ has four letters, but only three sounds: ‘d’ ‘u’ ‘ck’. We use our tongue, lips, teeth, and other parts of our mouth to create different speech sounds.

It’s not uncommon to occasionally find yourself asking, “What did my toddler just say?!”. As children learn to talk, they gradually learn to make more and more speech sounds. This means that they cannot say all speech sounds straight away. Some sounds like ‘m’ are easier to make than sounds like ‘th’. 

Even when children can make a speech sound by itself, it can be much trickier to use speech sounds when saying whole words and sentences! Children often find simpler ways to say words when they are finding a speech sound tricky.

Your toddler may mispronounce words such as “wabbit” instead of “rabbit”, or use “f” where “th” should be. This physical process of producing and coordinating individual speech sounds i.e. movement of the lips, tongue, teeth, respiratory system, and palate is what is referred to as articulation. When we talk about speech, articulation is included within this, but encompasses the entirety of verbal communication including voice, fluency, and articulation.

In this article, we’ve put together some top tips on how you can improve your toddler’s articulation, and at which point you may want to consider speech therapy. 

  1. Read Aloud

Reading to your child can have so many benefits, and it’s never too soon to start! Taking some time to read together each day, even if it’s just a few minutes, can help your toddler improve their vocabulary and speech as you model proper articulation.

This time in your child’s life is also the perfect opportunity to introduce them to a wide range of age-appropriate books to help you both discover what captures their interest most. Books with humorous elements can be especially fantastic for younger, more reluctant readers.

  1. Avoid Imitating Mispronunciations

When your child mispronounces a word, it can be endearing, and it might also come naturally to imitate them. But because of how your toddler’s brain works, they’ll likely pick up on how you have echoed back their mispronunciation, reinforcing the wrong way of saying the word.

  1. Model Back Correct Pronunciations

Instead of imitating your toddler’s mispronunciation, model back the correct pronunciation as you continue the conversation. Don’t make it sound like you are correcting them, start with ‘yes’ or ‘oh’. This is more helpful than interrupting them to explicitly correct them. For example, if your toddler commonly mispronounces the word “frog” as “fwog”, instead of saying “It is a fwog”, try to say, “Oh yes, It is a frog”. It’s helpful to repeat the word a few times, so you could say, “Oh yes, it’s a frog. A green frog. What a lovely frog” You can stress the word you are correcting and don’t expect the child to repeat back what you said, its more important to keep the conversation going.

  1. Sound and Music

Listening to and playing with sounds and music can help develop children’s awareness of sounds. Singing songs, nursery rhymes and listening to music can help get them ready to notice sounds which is important for learning speech sounds. Share songs, nursery rhymes, and music with your child in any of the languages that you use at home. Sing familiar rhymes and see if your child can finish the rhyme: Jack and Jill went up the… (hill).

You can play with musical instruments, copying each other’s tune or rhythm. Beating out a rhythm together using drums or household objects like pans and spoons, also helps with sound discrimination whilst having fun.

  1. Make Silly Sounds!

It might seem counterintuitive for helping your toddler’s speech, but making silly sounds with your child can help improve their articulation. Pop your cheeks, blow raspberries, or even use babbling sounds such as “bee-bee-bee” and “mumumum”.

Children’s speech and language development is more than just repeating words. At this age, your toddler is still learning how to use the muscles required for correct articulation, so this can be an ideal way for them to practise. 

When to Consider Seeking Speech Therapy

Each child learns at their own pace, and speech is not an exception. This is why it can be tricky to know when to consider reaching out for professional help. However, should you think that your child’s speech sounds are not as clear as other children their age, or if they are becoming frustrated when they are not understood by others, it is best to talk to the child’s nursery or school, or contact your health visitor who will be able to make a referral to a speech therapist, if necessary.