When your child begins speaking, they try many words for the first time. Mispronunciations are bound to occur. It is important to respond correctly when your child pronounces a word incorrectly to avoid discouraging their attempts to communicate.

talking

Understanding your child’s language development, as well as how it affects their pronunciation, provides a foundation for your appropriate responses to mispronunciation.

In their first few years of life, all children pronounce words incorrectly. By the time they are three, children pronounce most of their words correctly; even a stranger can understand at least ¾ of them. By four years of age, your child will mispronounce fewer words, but may still have difficulty with certain sounds, especially f, l, r, s, v, sh and th.

While your child is developing their language skills, you can help by doing the following:

While talking to your child:

  • Talk to your child constantly – while cooking, changing their diaper, and during every other activity.
  • Do not use “baby talk.” Talk with correctly pronounced words in an ordinary voice.
  • Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Use facial expressions and make eye contact – studies have shown that both help your child learn and retain new words.

Avoid finishing your child’s words or sentences and interrupting.

When learning new words:

  • Introduce new words by naming unfamiliar items for your child.
  • Repeat some words more than once, especially if the pronunciation is difficult.
  • Make up rhymes of similar words to familiarize your child with new words.

Two effective methods to use if you child does mispronounce a word are:

Correction

If you hear your child say a word incorrectly, say it for them correctly. Then try to get them to repeat the word correctly. Remember that small children are sensitive to criticism, so use a gentle tone of voice. Do not force them to repeat the word; if you wait, the opportunity for correction the same word will come again.

Positive Reinforcement

Young children respond well to praise, so do so when they pronounce a new or difficult word correctly. Also, emphasize how many new words they are learning and how proud you are of their efforts to communicate.

It takes time for your child to learn that first word. It also takes time to learn to speak correctly and clearly. If you are concerned that your child’s language is not developing as it should, talk with your pediatrician. They can allay any fears or, if necessary, refer you to a speech and language pathologist, who can determine if there is normal speech development or an actual problem.

Not every child develops language skills in the same way. Some are talkers and some are not. Knowing how to help your child develop speech and what to do if they mispronounce a word can help both you and your child be comfortable with the development of their language skills. Patience, practice, and positive reinforcement all will serve you well as your child develops their communication skills.

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