Q:  I can understand my 4-year-old, but most other people have trouble, including his father. Is there something wrong with him? What sounds should he be saying? What should I do?

Sidney, Glendale


People in your family should be able to understand most of what your 4-year-old says. People who do not know him should understand about half of his productions. If his dad can’t understand what he is saying, you should seek out a speech evaluation by a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP).


Most speech problems are developmental and can be fully corrected. They result from poor auditory discrimination of individual speech sounds and/or improper motor patterning for sound production. Some speech problems are more complicated and stem from difficulty learning the rules for how sounds are made in English. These children usually exhibit several error sounds. Less often, speech problems result from neurological differences that interrupt the motor patterns needed for speech. No matter the cause, an SLP can show you and your child how to produce sounds correctly and establish a therapy plan to improve speech production.


A 4-year-old child should be able to say all vowel sounds, and many consonants in words, including  /b/, /p/, /m/, /n/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/, /s/, /z/, (sh), (ch), (j), and /l/.  If he is not yet producing /r/, /v/, or (th) accurately, look for those by the time he or she is five. While some milestones indicate not to worry about some sounds until the child is 7 years of age, those norms are based on studies that were done in the 1950s. Children today typically produce all sounds correctly by the time they enter kindergarten. This is necessary, in fact, as they learn to read earlier than ever before.  It is important for children to hear and say sounds correctly so that they can learn to read fluently.


In general, children begin to say words by the time they are a year old. We may not even realize that they are “talking” due to their limited ability to articulate clearly at this early age. As children develop during the toddler and preschool years, motor pathways are defined within their brains so that they can produce the fine motor movements necessary for articulation of sequential speech sounds.


In addition to needing a sophisticated neurological structure for speech production, children also need a lot of practice to refine their speech patterns. By the time they enter kindergarten, their speech should be intelligible to adults who do not regularly listen to their speech.


Always consult an SLP to answer questions about your child’s speech development.  Many times, children are right on target with speech sound development. When they are not, the SLP is there to help.


The information contained in this article is provided for informational purposes only and is not for use in diagnosing any condition.  The information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment.  Always consult your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions regarding any possible medical condition.


Dr. Tina Veale, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is Program Director and Professor of the Speech-Language Pathology Program at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona. She has more than 30 years of experience working with individuals with autism and their families. Dr. Veale can be contacted at tveale@midwestern.edu.





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