When should a child’s pronunciation issues be addressed?

Almost all children have trouble with pronunciation when they start talking, and it can be really sweet. When should this start to worry you?

 Toddler and mother talking (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Toddler and mother talking
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Already during the first year of life, even before the first words, we hear babies producing sounds that help them communicate with the adults around them. 

First they make reflexive sounds that mimic A or O and later other sounds are added. Around the age of one year the first words are expected to appear, and as they grow more and more words will be added to the vocabulary.

Problems with pronunciations are part of the developmental process of speech acquisition. We can hear interruptions such as replacing one sound with another, like replacing the "t" sound with another, or omitting syllables in a word, for example, bus for autobus. Around the age of 3, children are expected to be understood by those around them at least 80% of the time.

Most of the sounds are already expected to be acquired and also the ability to control saying several syllables in a word, and not just one syllable.

Meital Mansheri Naftali is a speech therapist who diagnoses and treats infants and children. She said that common disturbances are in the pronunciation of the whistling sounds (Sh, S, Z and Ch). 

For example, replacing the sound Sh with the sound S (sake not shake) or replacing the sound C with the sound S (sake not cake). When you hear mispronunciations like these it's advisable to consult a speech therapist, and treat the problem with assistance, but not before the age of five-and-a-half to six.

Still bothered by pronunciations?

Each sound in the Hebrew language has a different acquisition range, therefore, if you have any doubts about your child's speech, consult a speech therapist. You can also contact an ENT to check that there isn’t a physical problem that interferes with hearing, such as fluid in the ears. 

Also, go for a hearing test at a hearing clinic.

What can you do at home to help your child?

Interpret according to the situation. If you can’t understand your child's speech, see what they're looking at, pointing to or playing with and interpret the context and the situation.

Give two choices. If the child points in the direction of the games and says an unclear word, you can suggest two games and suggest, “Do you want a car or a puzzle?”

Repeat aloud after the child. Maybe this will help you understand.

What shouldn’t you do?

Don’t try to practice with children saying the appropriate sound or ask them to say the word properly. If there’s a problem that doesn’t match his age, a speech therapist will evaluate and ask a child to practice in a specific way, one that matches the child’s needs as part of the process to pronounce correctly.