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Early Developmental Speech Sounds and Suggestions for Production

(Later developing sounds such as r, sh, ch, th, etc. are not included)

General Information: 

  • For all sounds, start with meaningful words for your child.  I.e. Functional words existing in your child's life or environment.  An escalator is meaningless to a child who has never seen one.  Animal and sibling names are good starters, if simple.
  • Relating to labels or words that are concrete are easier than words that have no solid representation.  For example, "sick" may be meaningless, but "tummy hurts" might be understood. 
  • Simple one-syllable words are easier to begin with than complicated multi-syllabic words.  Ex. dog is easier than canine.  Noodles or pasta is easier than spaghetti. 
  • The speech sounds in the developmental order given below are just a guide.  Children will speak what is meaningful to them first, which may be words not listed here.   
  • Note that sometimes all of the sounds within the word will not be produced accurately at first, but with lots of practice this should improve over time. Your job is to always repeat the word appropriately.
  • It is inconsistent as to whether initial sounds or final sounds are perfected first.  Sometimes it depends on the sound, what surrounds the sound or it depends on the individual child.
  • Please note that the lists of suggested words are only initial sound words.  Children will likely also produce these sounds in the final and medial positions in words, such as up, baby, and stop.

p, b, m sounds are created by placing the lips together and presenting a stream of air.  /p, b/ are created by a quick burst of air, where /m/ is created by a steady stream of air that partially escapes through the nasal cavity (feel the slight tickle in your nose as you produce the /m/).   The difference between /p/ and /b/ is that /p/ is unvoiced (less airflow) and /b/ sound is voiced (more airflow).  Place your hand on your throat as you produce the sounds to feel the difference.  

Suggested words 

/p/

pack paw peek pig puff
pail pea peep pin push
paint peach pen pool pup
park pear pet pop pull


• "Papa" is an easy beginning word

/b/

baa bath bee bird book
bad bean bell baot boot
ball bear bib bone boy
barn bed bike boo bug


• "Bye bye" is an easy target word that also carries a social context – closing a conversation.

/m/

mad milk mop move
man mine more mud
me moon mouse mug
meat moose mouth my

• "Mama" is easy for young ones!

/h/
This is an open production sound meaning there is no constriction within the mouth (just as vowels have no constrictions).  Air is gently passed through the open mouth posture.

Suggested words  

hair hay here home hot
ham head hi honk hug
hand help hide hop hurt
hat hen hit horse who


• "Happy" might be a fun beginning word.

/w/
This sound is slightly related to the above /p, b, m/ sounds because the lips are put together, but closure is not quite completed.  Air is then passed through this narrow constriction.

Suggested words 

whale what wheel where why


• "What's that" may be an early question.

/n/
This sound is another nasal sound, like /m/.  The tongue tip is placed on the roof of the mouth, just behind the top front teeth and a small amount of air is passed through the nasal cavity (feel the tickle in your nose as it is produced).

Suggested words 

gnome nap nice none
knee neck night nose
knife need no now
nail nest noise nurse


• "No-no" and "night-night"  are often beginning /n/ words.

'y'
This sound is hidden within the mouth, but exhibits a high front tongue position.  Air is passed slowly over the tongue as it is slightly cupped in the center.

Suggested words 

use yam yap yes you
yak yank yell yolk yum


• "Yucky" might be a beginning meaningful word and "yes" is positive!

t, d
These sounds are made by tapping the tongue tip on the roof of the mouth just behind the top front teeth. The difference between /t/ and /d/ is that /t/ is unvoiced (less airflow) while the /d/ sound is voiced (more airflow).  You can feel a difference by placing your hand on your throat as you produce the sounds.

Suggested words 

/t/

tack talk tea tip tongue
tag tank tears toad top
tail tap teeth toast toy
take tart tent toe tug


• "Toto", the dog in The Wizard of Oz, may be an early word carrying significant meaning for some.

/d/

dad deep dip dog door
dance deer dirt doll duck
dark den dish done dude
day dig do don't dump


• "All done" is a great beginning word combination to indicate the cognitive concept of finished.

k, g
These sounds are made by humping up the tongue in the back and quickly tapping the tongue on the roof of the mouth. The difference between /k/ and /g/ is that /k/ is unvoiced (less airflow) while the /g/ sound is voiced (more airflow).  You can feel a difference by placing your hand on your throat as you produce the sounds.

Suggested words  

/k/

cab call car coat comb corn
cage camp card cob come cow
cake can cart cold cone cub
calf cap cat colt cool cup
keep kick kids kings keeper kiss
key kid king kite kicker kitten


• "Can't" is a powerful beginning word.

/g/

game get give good
gas ghost go goose
gate gift goat got
geese girl gone gum


• "All gone" is a beginning concept indicating knowledge that something is no longer present.

/f/
This sound is produced by placing the top front teeth onto the lower lip and passing a stream of air through the constriction.  The /f/ sound is the same as /v/ sound (the voiced twin), but /v/ is a later developer and will not be covered on this list. 

Suggested words 

/f/

face farm feed fight fire fizz
foot fair fast feet fin fish
foal fork fan fat fence find
fit foam fun far fawn fig
fur fix food phone four five


• "Fuzzy" is a fun first word.

/l/
This sound is somewhat varied, especially depending on what precedes or follows it.  However, generally it is made by placing the tongue just behind the top front teeth and passing air through the constriction.  Keep in mind that /l/ is a later developer.

Suggested words 

/l/

luck leaf lid lick light lie
lump leg lots last look low
large love lazy lamb line lip
lamp lost lion lean long leopard
link lake limb loop lock lunch
log line ladder loose lay little

• "Love" is a powerful first word we all wait for.

/s/
This sound is produced by passing air over the top and front of the tongue out through slightly closed teeth.  The tongue should not protrude out of the mouth as this will produce a lisping sound.  Air should not flow over the sides of the tongue as this will produce a lateral, or sloppy (like Daffy Duck or Sylvester Cat) sound.

Suggested words 

/s/

cell sap set sod cent sat
sew soft sack save sick some
sad saw side son safe scent
sigh song sag sea sill soot
said seal sing sore sail search
sink sound sale seat sip soup
salt see sit sow Sam seed
size sub same seep soak suds
sand seize soap suit sang sell
soar sun sank send sock surf

• "Sit" is a first early direction presented while "see?" is a fun early request.

/r/


** Of special note about learning to produce accurate /r/.  Research has found that the tongue has the most rapid rate of growth between the ages of 5.5 – 7.5 years.  While producing /r/, we rely totally on kinesthetic and proprioceptive feedback (i.e. we need to rely on feel vs. sight) because the tongue makes no contact anywhere in the mouth to produce /r/.  During this rapid growth time, the feedback received may literally change from week to week.  Therefore this makes it a more difficult sound to teach for correction at earlier ages.  Because of the liquid nature of /r/, being heavily influenced by what surrounds it in a word production and the fact that it is a later developer, no words are included in this form.

© Kate Ross, MS, CCC-SLP   (2011)

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