Are speech and language different?

Yes. A child may have problems with one or both.

  • Speech refers to how your child says words and sounds. How we make sounds using our mouth, tongue and lips is known as articulation.
  • Language refers to the words your child uses and how he uses them to get their needs met. It includes what words mean and how to put words together.

Which sounds should my child know how to make by a certain age?

Every child is different, but here are different sounds that your child should be able to make by a certain age. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s speech, ask the care team.

By age 3

  • M, B, P, H, N, W, D and Y

By age 5

  • All sounds from age 3, plus “ng,” K, G, T, D, F, V, “ch” and “J”

By age 8

  • All sounds from ages 3 and 5, plus “sh,” S, “th,” R, Z, L and “zh”

How can I help my child's speech sound development?

  • Use specific positive praise. For example, you might say “Wow, I just heard you make a great S sound!” or “You kept your tongue behind your teeth for your S sound. Good job!”
  • If your child makes a mistake, model the correct sound for him. Do not focus on the mistake. For example, if your child uses a B sound for the V sound in “shovel,” you might model the sound correctly by saying “Oh, you want the shovel. Here is the shovel.”
  • Practice sounds face-to-face. This can encourage your child to watch how you make a sound. For younger children, hold the object you are talking about near your face or mouth.
  • Connect the sound with an object, action or noise to help practice it in a fun way. For example, if your child has trouble with “p”, you might talk about the “pop” sound when blowing bubbles.

I'm having a hard time understanding my child's speech. What can I do to help?

  • Use clues from your surroundings. For example, you might say “Please show me what you are talking about.”
  • Pay attention to your child’s gestures, feelings and where they are looking to give you clues.
  • Ask for more information when you need it. For example, you might say “You went somewhere with Daddy. Where did you go?”
Rev. 3/2018. Reviewed by the CARMA Advisory Board. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.