Why I don’t worry about my toddler’s pronunciation

May 23, 2016

My two-year-old talks all day long, but because he sounds like a little drunk, very few people understand him. Most of what he says has to get translated for others, either by me or by his three-year-old brother, who acts as his interpreter. Parents sometimes worry about their toddlers’ speech sounds, so I thought today I’d write about why I’m not worried on this score.

speech sounds


He’s two.

Well, I could stop there really. But I’m verbose, so I won’t. To the best of my ability to tell, his speech sounds seem to fall within the norms typical of his age.

His speech is getting better.

His pronunciation improves all the time. I can hear this in particular words, like water, which he started off saying ‘tata’ and now says perfectly. Also he has learned many new sound patterns. For example, he can now put a consonant on the end of a word [to make CVC words, like cat and moon]. He’s learned to change a vowel sound within a word, so he used to call me mama, but now says Ima (the Hebrew for mother).

He uses language all the time.

He talks to communicate thoughts and feelings, to ask questions, to learn new words… I understand him best but that’s age appropriate. When he turns three I hope most people will understand him!

His understanding is amazing.

The words and sentences we understand make up our receptive language skills, and in many ways these are even more important than our expressive skills. My little guy is lightning-fast at picking up what I say to him, and conversations around him. These days my husband and I have to spell out secret messages. (You know the ones, ‘I need C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E’ etc.).

He’s bilingual.

Or even trilingual, if you count the little bits of German he speaks! I don’t know if being bilingual has any effect on how speech sounds develop, but the fact that he’s picking up two languages so well makes me think he’s doing wonderfully!

His hearing is fine.

He had a hearing test recently and passed it well. Ear infections can cause hearing problems, which in turn lead to speech problems, so this is worth checking out if you’ve got a toddler who slurs words.

When it comes to encouraging language development in toddlers, my feeling is that it’s best to focus on helping them to understand more and more and interact as much as possible. 

In time my son’s speech sounds will develop. I encourage him very gently by repeating his words correctly. I make sure that this is part of our conversation, and doesn’t sound like I’m correcting him. Very occasionally I ask him to repeat sentences from me, for example to learn a song, but this is a game and definitely not a drill. Communicating well and talking together lots seems to me to be the best way to improve his pronunciation over time.

(This is a personal experience. Your situation may be different. If you think your child’s speech is not developing well, please do consult your doctor.)

Meanwhile, I admit, I love his toddlerisms, such as the way he points out butterflies, inspired by the ‘beautiful butterfly’ in The Very Hungry Caterpillar: ‘Look, Ima, a boofafoo buffaffy!’

How about you? Does anything cause you concern about your little one’s speech? Do you have any todderisms you enjoy?

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