Articulation is the process by which we produce sounds, syllables, and words. An articulation disorder/impairment refers to the inability of a person to accurately produce speech sounds. A phonological disorder is a disorder in which a person is unable to produce a particular group of sounds. Phonological disorders can be more serious than articulation disorders because they affect more sounds ( e.g., deletion of final consonants -- "ca" for "cat," "cu" for "cup"). An articulation/phonological disorder is usually correctable and should be treated as necessary by a speech/language pathologist. Consistent parental involvement in therapy is very important for carryover into the child's familiar environment. Unintelligible speech can sometimes lead to frustration, behavior problems, and withdrawal. An articulation impairment that is not addressed can eventually affect a child's self esteem, social skills, and educational status. The longer articulation errors exist beyond the age of mastery, the more difficult they are to correct.

Some articulation impairments are caused by problems such as cleft palate, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and hearing loss, affecting the ability of the child's oral musculature to produce and/or combine sounds. However, the majority of articulation problems cannot be directly linked to any of these disorders. Chronic otitis media experienced during infancy can interfere with a child's ability to listen, prohibiting them from acquiring some speech sounds. It is important to have your child's hearing tested if you have concerns regarding their speech development.

Articulation disorders can range in severity from mild, affecting only a few sounds, to severe rendering a child unintelligible. Parents can often understand their child's speech but should pay close attention to how well extended family members and others understand the child.

Most articulation errors can be classified into three categories.

  • Omissions -- "op" for "top"
  • Substitutions -- "tat" for "cat"
  • Distortions -- sound produced inaccurately but resembles the actual sound

Production of speech sounds is based on development. A child is not considered delayed if he/she does not accurately produce sounds that are not developmentally appropriate for his/her age. By age 3, a child's speech intelligibility should be approximately 75%. By age 4, a child's speech intelligibility should be between 90-100%. The following is a list of speech sounds and their corresponding ages for mastery. It should be noted that opinions differ among professionals regarding the ages at which sounds are mastered. These are the opinions of the speech/language pathologists at this facility.

  • 3 years: p, b, m, h, w, vowels
  • 4 years: t, d, k, g, f, y, n
  • 5-6 years: l, s, z, sh, v, r, ch
  • 7 years: j, th

Some children will outgrow their speech problems and become more intelligible with age and maturity. However, some children will require enrollment in speech therapy to eliminate their sound errors.


  • Present a good, slow speech model.
  • Emphasize misarticulated words in phrases/sentences correctly.
  • Have your child look closely at your face and mouth, when possible, so they can see how you form your sounds.