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Speech sound errors at the age of three

By the age of three, you should be able to understand about 75 per cent of your child’s speech. There may be errors related to the letters ‘s’, ‘l’ and ‘r’ which are mastered at an older age. Errors in later developing sounds are considered normal at this age since children are still learning new words and therefore learning to make new sounds. If there are errors related to the sounds of the letters ‘m’, ‘k’, ‘t’, ‘f’, ‘b’ by this age, you should consult a speech therapist.

According to Ms Goh Siew Li, Head and Principal Speech Therapist, Speech Language Therapy Service at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group, it is important not to associate any negative emotion with speech sound errors by over-correcting your child. Instead, when you hear your child make an error, you can gently repeat the word with the correct pronunciation by using it several times in your conversation.

For example: Your child might say, “Look at the tat (cat)”. You could respond by saying, “What a nice cat. The cat is black and white. Let’s go and stand close to the cat.” “Do not ask your child to repeat the word multiple times since this can cause a negative association with the word. Communication is meant to be fun,” observes Ms Goh.

Other speech and language milestones

  • By age two (24 months), monolingual children are expected to have a vocabulary size of over 200 words.
  • By age three-and-a-half, children should be using short sentences of three to four words.
  • By age five, children can tell you what happened in school in some detail like they are telling you a short story.
  • By age five-and-a-half, speech should be 100 per cent understandable.
  • By age seven-and-a-half, speech should have no sound errors.

When should you be concerned?

Common talking disorders Age to be concerned Tell-tale signs​
Language delay, including late talkers 18 months No first words
  42 months Lack of 3-4 word phrases and decreased ability to string words together
  66 months Lack of the ability to tell a short story about things in school, or retell a story
Speech sound errors 42 months Child's speech is less than 75% understandable
  66 months Child's speech is less than 100% understandable
  90 months Child still has speech sound errors
Reduced socio-communication skills 18 months Child is not able to request for items using either pointing or talking
  42 months Does not engage in symbolic play
  66 months Unable to tell stories with a plot. Stuttering at 42 months / stuttering for more than 6 months
Stuttering or not fluent in speech At any age, if stuttering persists for more than 6 months from onset Stuttering or not fluent in speech
Voice disorders Any age Hoarse voice

Training for parents

If your child is lagging behind in any of these language milestones, you should consult a doctor, paediatrician or speech therapist, advises Ms Goh.

Parents who are keen to learn how to stimulate language development in their children can attend training programmes organised regularly at the KKH Rehabilitation Centre. These programmes teach parents practical strategies that can be used in everyday situations to facilitate language development and use in their child.

How can parents encourage their child to talk? Find out on the previous page.

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