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. Several times 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 later developed 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. Several mothers replace the original word to 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 it’s 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.

“The reaction of laughing when a child mispronounces a word, is in it’s own way, a form of reward to your child… the frequency of mispronunciations will increase.”

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 several 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 it’s own expression, a form of reward to your child. By doing so the child is correlating that with every mispronounced word, a reward will follow, in the usual case this is the laughter and attention. Accordingly, the frequency of mispronunciations will increase, in order to gain more attention as the reward.


Heres 3 steps to help end this cycle, or even prevent it in the first place:

  1. Limit negative reactions

imgres-1When 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 as laughing nor negative reaction by bringing it to their attention such as ‘your saying it wrong.’

  1. Respond

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 this refrigerator.’ Here, my not brining it to the attention of your child, you are indirectly providing correction through modeling.

  1. 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 for professional opinion and guidance.

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