Pronunciation difficulties in children


Q: Hi. It’s really good to have a speech therapist here. My daughter, she’s 8 and has difficulty to pronounce the letter “R” . Everytime it just came out as “aghh” . Sometimes, people made fun of it and she’d come to me and asked why she has that problem.My questions are :

1. What is/are the cause/s of pronunciation difficulties?

2. How can we help our kids to improve/fix this matter?

Thank you for your time and attention. (Faeeza Ghafar)

A:  Dear Puan Faeeza, thank you for your question.

As children learn language, they also learn to make the different sounds in saying a word. It is common for people outside the family to not understand a child’s speech clearly till the child is between 3-4 years old. The problem arises if the speech is still unclear to most people when the child is past that age.

A handy formula suggested by Dr Peter Flipsen Jr (2006):


  • Child aged 1 = 1/4 or 25% intelligible to strangers
  • Child aged 2 = 2/4 or 50% intelligible to strangers
  • Child aged 3 = 3/4 or 75% intelligible to strangers
  • Child aged 4 = 4/4 or 100% intelligible to strangers

Bear in mind that children develop a variety of sounds gradually and over a period of time. They usually attain all the speech sounds by the age of 8 years. This is a general guide on speech sounds development:

  • 1-3 years old – p, m, h, w,  b, n
  • 2-4 years old – k, g, d, t, f, y, ng
  • 3-5 years old – l, blends (st, pl, gr, etc)
  • 3-6 years old – sh, ch
  • 3-8 years old – r, s, z
  • 4-6 years old – j, v

It is common for very young children to say sounds incorrectly as they learn to say words such as substituting or omitting sounds. For example, they may substitute ‘k’ for ‘t’ (‘tup’ instead of ‘cup) or ‘t’ for ‘s’ (‘tutu’ instead of ‘susu’). Some may say only one sound for words that starts with 2 consonants. For example, they may say ‘poon’ instead of ‘spoon’. However, if the children persist to say words this way as they grow older, they may have phonological processes disorder. It is important to consult a speech-language pathologist for evaluation.

1. What is/are the cause/s of pronunciation difficulties?

Speech sound disorders (pronunciation difficulties) can be caused by a variety of factors. Among them:

  1. Hearing impairment or frequent ear infection with fluctuating conductive hearing loss
  2. Anatomy anomaly (e.g. cleft lip and/or palate)
  3. Genetic disorders (e.g. Down’s syndrome)
  4. Neurological disorders (e.g. cerebral palsy)
  5. Developmental disorders (e.g. Autism)

There can also be other unknown factors that cause speech sound disorders.

2. How can we help our kids to improve/fix this matter?

Children with genetic disorders, neurological disorders and anatomy anomaly can usually be identified at birth or early infancy. If the child has none such risk factors but has difficulty with clarity of speech, it is advised to seek assessment and treatment from a Speech-Language Pathologist.

( answered by Ms Yong Ennie )

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