Mispronunciation in Children: The latest on speech milestones and letter development
While language is detected very early during infancy, the process of projecting speech first begins between ages of 1-2 years. From then onwards, toddlers pick up language quite quickly, yet it is not always a walk in the park. Often toddlers will mispronounce words or misuse words during their speech; while this may be cute in the beginning and great entertainment during family gatherings, how you act and react to such a situation is critical.
It is important to note that with every stage in a child’s developmental age, new sounds are being introduced to their speech. For example, while a two year old can pronounce several letters, usually the ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds are developed later, around the age of 5-6. Children should fully develop all their sounds accordingly by the age of 7. Speech specialist Eric K Sander created the following illustration to demonstrate the speech sounds that typically develop by age.
However, until children do reach that developmental stage, it is important to guide their speech accordingly, especially if certain words are being mispronounced. Some mothers replace the original word with the word their child pronounces in their daily language so for example; they would ask their child ‘do you want a nana?’ Instead of using the proper noun, ‘do you want a banana?’ Here, you are encouraging mispronunciation and instead hindering a child’s speech development by teaching that the incorrect ‘nana’ is in fact a correct word used by mammy and daddy.
A client recently was complaining that her 2.5-year-old child says ‘macaconi’ instead of ‘macaroni.’ She mentioned that both she, as well as several family members, found this very cute the first few times, and would usually ask the child to repeat ‘macaconi’ on purpose so as to have a laugh about it. Recently, she realized this is a problem when her son would randomly say ‘macaconi’ to strangers just to wait for their laugh. Do you think the mother handled the situation well?
The reaction of laughing when a child mispronounces a word is in itself a form of reward to your child. By doing so the child is correlating that with every mispronounced word, a reward will follow, usually laughter and attention. Accordingly, the frequency of mispronunciations will increase, in order to gain more attention as the reward.
HERE ARE 3 STEPS TO HELP END THIS CYCLE, OR EVEN PREVENT IT:
1. LIMIT NEGATIVE REACTIONS
When a child mispronounces a word, whether they are developmentally capable of pronouncing all letters or not, it is best to ignore. Provide neither a positive reaction such as laughing nor a negative reaction by bringing it to their attention such as ‘you’re saying it wrong.’
If the situation allows, respond to your child using the correct pronunciation. E.g ‘Mummy can I have open the figerator’ you can reply by saying ‘Sure you can open the refrigerator.’ Here, by not bringing it to the attention of your child, you are indirectly providing correction through modeling.
3. BE A GOOD ROLE-MODEL
No matter how cute your child may sound with their mispronunciations, always use the right words when you talk to them. You can even sometimes exaggerate or elaborate on a certain syllable or sound that they seem to not pick up during sentences.
It is important to listen to your child’s speech and check to see if there is improvement over a certain period of time. By the age of 3, a child’s speech should be mostly understandable to others. If you do feel like your child’s speech development raises a red flag, it is best to seek a professional opinion and guidance.
Amina is a child psychologist, parent educator and coach. She is also currently a doctoral researcher in Education at the University of Bath, UK. After completing her masters in child & adolescent psychology, Amina worked with a variety of children ranging from behavioral issues to developmental disorders. Her certifications in positive discipline and parent coaching allow her to form the bridge between parent education and child therapy as she provides tools and proven strategies to empower parents when raising their children. Amina’s goal is to provide her clients with positive parenting tools to create a strong child-parent relationship based on the foundations of love, trust and growth.