Is your one year-old chatting away in what sounds like a foreign language? Or maybe you can understand what he’s saying, but you have to translate for everyone else. Rest assured that this is normal. Articulation – or coordinating the jaw, lips, tongue, and teeth to produce speech sounds – is tricky for new talkers.
“Typically, toddlers work through articulation errors quickly,” says Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist Chris Rowlee. “By age 3 their speech should be intelligible to others.”
For now, though, you can enjoy your new talker while gently guiding him towards correct articulation. Before we explore how to do that, let’s take a look at why it’s difficult for little mouths to articulate speech sounds.
Why is Articulation Difficult for Toddlers?
Articulating a speech sound requires precise coordination of the jaw, lips, tongue, and teeth (articulators). To appreciate this, make the sounds t and d. Notice the tiny difference between where your tongue lands to produce these two distinct sounds.
Your toddler’s articulators are a lot like her wobbly learning-to-walk legs; just as it takes time for her to graduate from toddling to smooth walking, it takes time for her mouth to evolve from mumbling to clear speech.
What Speech Sounds Can Toddlers Articulate?
Because speech development can be dramatically different for each child, articulation milestones are hard to pin down for this stage. Some of the consonant sounds your one year-old may be able to make in words are: p, b, m, n, w, t, d, k and g.
What are Common Toddler Articulation Errors?
Below are some typical speech quirks you may notice when your toddler gabs away. Usually these mistakes are simply due to the fact that certain speech sounds are easier to make than others.
Substituting Sounds — Gar instead of car, or wat instead of rat.
Dropping Sounds — Ha instead of hat or ca instead of car.
Dropping Syllables — Boon instead of balloon.
Simplifying Tricky Sound Combinations — Side instead of slide, cown instead of clown, or cool instead of school.
What You Can Do
Overcorrecting a new talker can zap the fun out of a very exciting milestone. Instead of directly pointing out and correcting articulation errors, try our BabySparks “Pronouncing Words Correctly” and “Translating Baby Talk” activities to gently demonstrate correct speech as part of normal conversation with him.
In general, speak correctly when you talk, read, and play with your child. This is important because articulation errors can be adorable and tempting to imitate! Above all, patience is key. Remember that articulation errors are common at this stage and typically resolve with consistent modeling from the grownups in his life.
When to Seek Guidance
Articulation errors alone aren’t cause for concern at this stage. “What’s more important,” says Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist Mandy Alvarez, “is that he’s talking, imitating, communicating with gestures, using conversational babbling mixed with real words, and varying the sounds he makes.”
That said, if your child acquires a speech skill and then loses it, or if his speech is so unintelligible that even you can’t understand it, bring it up to your pediatrician or a pediatric speech-language pathologist.
You can read about the evolution of speech in general here.