Better Speech 10 min read

Common Words That Kids Struggle to Pronounce and Why

Why does my child mispronounce words?

You might be wondering why your kids struggle producing words with L or words with sounds of TH. They might also substitute S initial words with /w/ such as “tan” for “sun”. This post explains the reason behind words that are commonly mispronounced and provides tips on how to help your child.

First, let’s talk about the typical speech sound development

words that are commonly mispronounced

Most parents know the basics of speech sound development. Babies learn to produce sounds by mimicking the noises that they hear around them. This is why it is important for parents to talk to their children as much as possible. But there are some specifics about speech sound development that many parents don’t know. Speech sounds develop in a very predictable order. that is why some words are commonly mispronounced at a certain age. By knowing what sounds typically develop when, you can help your child produce the sounds they are having difficulty with.

Typical Speech Sound Development

  • From 0-6 months, babies start making cooing sounds such as ‘a’, ‘o’, and ‘ee’.
  • At 6-12 months, babies start producing reduplicated babbling such as ‘mamama’ and ‘bababa’.
  • By the age of 2, the first words to develop are those sounds with the lips, such as /b/, /p/, and /m/.
  • At the age of 3, words with sounds made in the back of the teeth such as /t/, /d/, /n/ and /f/ start to emerge. They also start producing glide sounds such as /w/ and /h/ and sounds that require the tongue to touch the back of the mouth such as /k/, /g/, and /ng/.
  • At the age of 4, they start producing fricative sounds. These sounds need constant pushing of air through a small opening in the mouth. Examples are /v/, /s/, /z/, /ch/, and /sh/. words with L usually emerge at this age too.
  • Sounds of TH and /r/ sounds are usually the last to develop at the age of 5.

For more information, check out this chart that shows the speech sound development.

Typical Phonological Processes

There are certain sound errors and patterns that kids usually produce at a certain age to simplify speech as they are learning to talk. This is called a phonological process and it is very common in young children.

The most common phonological processes are:

  • Final Consonant Deletion: This is when a child leaves the final sound off of a word. For example, saying ‘ca’ for ‘cat’.
  • Gliding: When a child changes the sound of certain consonants. For example, saying words with /r/ such as ‘wabbit’ for ‘rabbit’ and words with l such as ‘yeyo’ for ‘yellow’
  • Fronting: When a child replaces velar or palatal sounds to alveolar sounds. For example, saying /k/ initial sounds such as ‘tat’ for ‘cat’ and S initial words such as ‘tee’ for ‘see’.
  • Deaffrication: When a child replaces fricative sounds with a stop sound. For example, changing sounds with /ch/ to /t/ such as ‘tip’ for ‘chip ‘ or word that have sounds of th to /t/such as ‘teet’ for ‘teeth’.

There are many other phonological processes but these are the most common. Most children will go through all of these at some point in their development.  Words that are commonly mispronounced may be due to these sound patterns. If your child is still producing sounds that are typical for their age, there is no cause for concern. They will eventually outgrow these processes as they continue to develop their speech sounds.

If your child  is having difficulty producing certain sounds, there are some things you can do to help.

Speech Intelligibility

sounds of th

As your child’s speech develops, it might be difficult to understand them. There might be words that they commonly mispronounced and you might be wondering if other people can understand them. This is called speech intelligibility. Speech intelligibility is the percentage of sounds that are correctly pronounced in a word.

A speech-language pathologist can measure this to get an idea of how well others understand your child!

However, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2003), the typical norms you want to look for in a child are: 

  • By 12 months, 50% of what they say should be intelligible to strangers.
  • At 18 months, 75% of what they say should be intelligible to strangers.
  • By 24 months or two years old, most of what they say (90%) should be intelligible to strangers.
  • By 5 years old,  almost all of what they say should be intelligible to strangers.

If you are concerned about your child’s speech intelligibility, there are some things you can do to help. You might want to consult with a speech-language pathologist to see if there are any concerns.

Why do Kids Have Difficulty Pronouncing Sounds?

As mentioned earlier, speech sound difficulties are common in early development as they usually outgrow them with time. There are several reasons why kids might have difficulty pronouncing sounds. Words that are commonly mispronounced usually have sounds that are more difficult to say. However, there are some cases where a child may need intervention to help them produce these sounds correctly.

One of the main reasons kids have difficulty pronouncing sounds is because they cannot see or feel what their mouth is doing. This is why it is important to model the correct production of sounds for your child to be aware of how their mouth should move.

Another reason why these sounds are difficult to produce is because they require more complex muscle movements and coordination than other sounds. For example, S initial words are words that are commonly mispronounced as /s/ is a sound that needs sustained airflow and friction in the mouth to produce the sound accurately. Words with a lot of syllables are also difficult to say as it requires a child to coordinate their breathing with the muscle movements in their mouth.

s initial words

Another reason why children have speech problems is due to anatomical deviations that cause oral motor difficulties. This includes disorders such as tongue-tie or ankyloglossia, which limits the range of motion of the tongue. This can make it difficult to produce sounds of th, /t/, /d/, /n/, and /l/. Another disorder is cleft lip palate. This is a birth defect that can cause problems with the production of sounds such as /p/, /b/, and /m/. However, with proper intervention and treatment, these sounds can develop in no time!

Speech sound difficulties can also be due to hearing impairments. If a child cannot hear the sounds correctly, they will have difficulty producing them. This is why it is important to visit an audiologist to get your child’s hearing checked if you suspect they may have a hearing loss.

What are Words that are Commonly Mispronounced?

With typically developing kids, some sounds are more difficult to produce than others. However, all sounds will be mastered with time and practice. By understanding common mispronunciations and why they happen you can be better equipped to help your child as they develop their speech sounds.

Here are some of the words that are commonly mispronounced by kids and the sounds that they have difficulty with.

  • S initial words such as “sun” or “sandwich”. Words with S are usually substituted by /t/. This is because the /t/ sound is much easier to produce as it only requires the tip of the tongue to touch the back of the teeth. The /s/ sound is produced by placing the blade of your tongue behind your top front teeth while making a hissing sound. Examples are S initial words such as “tun” for “sun”, and “tock” for “sock”.
  • Words with sounds of R such as  “rabbit” or “red”. The /r/ sound is produced by vibrating the tip of your tongue against the back of your top front teeth. This can be difficult for some kids as it requires motor coordination and control. They usually substitute /r/ to /w/ or /l/. For example, “wabbit” for “rabbit”, and “wed” for “red”.
  • Words with L such as “light”, “love”, and “leg”. words with L are often substituted by /w/. This is because the lip position for producing the /w/ sound is much easier than that of the /l/. The /l/ sound is produced by placing the tip and blade of your tongue behind your top front teeth while making a humming sound. This can often be misheard as a /w/ sound. Examples are words with L as the initial sound such as “wight” for “light”.
  • Words with sounds of TH such as “three”, “tooth”, and “bath”. Words with TH sound are often substituted by /f/. This is because the position of the teeth and lips are very similar for producing these sounds. The only difference is that /f/ is produced with the bottom lip touching the top teeth while /th/ sounds are produced by placing the tip of the tongue between the top and bottom teeth. Examples are words that have sounds of TH  such as “fink” for “think”, and “feeble” for “table”.

Tips on How to Help Your Child

If your child is having difficulty pronouncing sounds, there are some tips that you can do to help them.

words with l
  1. The first thing you can do is to model the correct production of sounds for your child. This will help them be aware of how their mouth should move when producing certain sounds. Have them in front of the mirror and practice producing sounds and syllables while singing nursery rhymes or reading a book. Watching you enunciate the words properly will help them be aware of what their mouth is doing and how to fix it.
  2. You can also have your child practice saying words that contain the sound that they are having difficulty with. This will help them get familiar with the motor movements that is needed to produce the sound accurately. You can also have them place their hand on their throat or mouth while producing sounds to help them feel the movement of their articulators.
  3. It is also important to provide a lot of opportunities for your child to practice using their new skills in conversation. The more they use their new sounds, the better they will become at producing them correctly. Drill sounds with your child in a fun way by making it into a game. For example, you can play the “I Spy” game and have them find objects that start with a particular sound, such as S initial words. 
  4. Finally, it is important to be patient with your child and to praise them when they produce sounds correctly. This will help them feel motivated to continue practicing and improving their speech sounds. When kids have difficulty pronouncing certain sounds, it can be frustrating for both the child and the parent. However, by understanding the reason behind these difficulties, it will equip you to help your child as they develop their speech sounds.

Remember, every child develops at their own pace. So, don’t get discouraged if it takes some time for your child to master the sounds they are having difficulty with.  With a little bit of patience and practice, they will eventually get there!

When to Seek Professional help

If your child is still having difficulty producing sounds after trying these tips, it may be time to seek professional help. A speech-language pathologist can assess your child’s speech sounds and provide specific therapy to help them improve their production of sounds. They can also help you with other strategies that you can use at home to support your child’s progress.

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel like your child is struggling! Pronouncing sounds correctly is an important part of communication and we want to make sure that your child has the best chance at success. Speech sound development can be difficult for some kids, but with the proper help and guidance, they will be able to overcome any difficulties!

As always, if you have questions, and would like to speak with a speech-language pathologist, please reach out to us a Better Speech where we offer you a free consultation. We will do our very best to answer your questions and offer you more guidance as to how you can start working toward solving your speech problems and start receiving speech therapy for your child!