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3 expert tips
for improving your tot’s speech clarity

It can take until second grade for a child to acquire fluent speech that is free of articulation errors. Before this time, certain kinds of errors can make a young child less understandable.


As a speech-language pathologist, one of my goals is to offer ideas for improving your toddler’s speech clarity—and for helping you to understand your child with a little more ease.

After all, understanding your toddler’s thought-process can be difficult enough without taking articulation into account!

Here are 3 common articulation errors and accompanying suggestions for improving your tot’s clarity.

Leaving off the last sound of a word.

This is quite common in younger children, which is why not everything an 18-month-old says is understood.

For example, “bae” could mean “bath” or “bad” or“bag.” The only way we know which one a child is referring to is by using context clues.

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By age 2, kids should be able to put consonants onto the ends of words, with few exceptions.

To encourage your child to do this, try practicing with words that end in /m/, /p/, /t/ or /k/ sounds.

Use words like game,mom (not mama), up, cup, hat, sock,or duck. Exaggerate these consonants when you say them and model for your child that you want him to make the same exaggerations.

Substituting consonants at the beginning of words.

Another common error pattern is something called initial voicing. For instance, a child might say “dape” for tape, “big” instead of pig, or “gat” instead of cat.

Take a quick moment to think about what your mouth is doing when you say /d/ vs. /t/, /b/ vs. /p/ and /g/ vs. /k/. You may notice that your mouth is actually doing the same exact thing for both sounds!

The only difference lies in the throat. For /d/, /b/and /g/, but not for /t/, /p/ and /k/, your vocal cords are vibrating. If you put your finger on your throat, you can feel this vocal cord vibration as a buzzing sensation.

What children have trouble with is going from anon-buzzing sound to a buzzing sound; they prefer to keep it all buzzing.

One way to get your child to say these sounds correctly is to whisper. When you whisper, you don’t buzz your vocal cords.

Have your child whisper a handful of words that begin with any of these sounds that he cannot currently say. This has the effect of showing your child that he can indeed make the sound.

The next challenge is to put this skill into actual words.

In English, the /t/, /p/ and /k/ sounds have a nice,strong burst of air when they’re said at the beginning of a word. So, in order to get kids to have that initial learning breakthrough, we want to emphasize this burst of air.


Try to use external cues to show kids what to do.  

For example, use a single piece of tissue paper and hold it about three inches in front of your child’s face. Now have your child say tape, pig, or cat. If he says the /t/, /p/ or /k/ sound correctly, the tissue paper will get flipped up. If he says it incorrectly, the tissue paper will stay put.

“Stopping” air flow when it shouldn’t be stopped.

Another sound pattern that is a serious culprit in reducing your child’s clarity is something called “stopping.”

Some sounds necessarily and momentarily stop airflow to make the sound correctly.

Try saying the word eating. When you say that first vowel (“ee”), in order to say the /t/ sound, you have to place your tongue where the upper front teeth and gums meet and stop the flow of air. That’s because the /t/ sound requires that you stop the air flow.

Now try to say easing. The air doesn’t stop flowing. Many children will stop the air flow where the air should actually keep flowing.

Any sound that requires continuous air flow can become subject to stopping.

So, you might hear your child say he’s not four years old, but “tor” or “door”.

To improve your child’s pronunciation, try something called minimal pairs. Think of two rhyming words that only differ in the sound you want your child to say correctly and another sound.

If your child cannot say the /f/ sound, good minimal pairs might be fin-tin, fake-take, or Jeff-jet. Practice saying these words with your child, emphasizing the differences between sounds.

This can allow your child to perceive the difference between what he is saying and what he should be saying.

Although these three speech patterns are very common among toddlers, they should phase out by 2½ years.

If these patterns are still present as your child approaches 2 ½ years, it may mean that your child’s speech is in need of attention from a speech pathologist.

However, the above tricks are an excellent place to start. In some cases, your child may just need a little help from you to notice and address these patterns.

When in doubt, consult your pediatrician or a qualified speech pathologist.

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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