Headstart for Life

Correcting when I hear something incorrect?

To effectively transmit a message and communicate, listeners should understand what we say. Children undergo several stages of speech development before they become completely understandable. It is acceptable for a one year old to have unclear verbal productions such as changing one sound to another such that “car” sounds like “tar” or omitting some syllable/s such as “banana” to “bana”.

Between 2.5 to 3 years of age, though children may still have difficulty producing some of the later developing sounds (r, s, th, pr), familiar people (caregivers, parents) and strangers usually understand them better.

According to the Speech and Language Development Chart by Addy Gard, Leslea Gilman and Jim Gorman (1993):  At 2 ½- 3 years “Still some substitutions and distortion of consonants. Continuing to improve intelligibility- now approximately 80% intelligible.”


As adults engaging with developing children, here are some ways on how to guide them especially when we hear mispronunciations.

1. Avoid saying negative words after every incorrect production. Instead, model the correct way.

The child says: “Oh there’s a wabbit!”

Avoid:  “No! That’s not a wabbit. Say rabbit.”

Instead, try to encourage and say: “Oh yes, I can see the rabbit!”

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2. Sing songs and read stories with repetitive words/statements. The repetition will help the child understand the goal and store the information.

You want the child to say the “b” or “s” sound through the “Wheels on the Bus” song.

“The wheels on the bus go round and round… The wheels on the bus go beep, beep, beep.”


You want the child to say “m”, “d” or “s” through the book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin Jr.

“Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.”

“Yellow duck, yellow duck, what do you see? I see a blue horse looking at me.”

3. During drills, let the family join and motivate the child. Try to avoid chances of letting the child feel that s/he’s the focus. The family may also create a word list to help track the child’s development.

 Example, a child who needs to refine the sound “k”: car, kiss, cake, cold, cow.

4. Provide various cues to help your child in producing a target sound/word. Sometimes, solely hearing the sound is not sufficient. Some children may also need the sense of touch (feel) and sight (see).

The child wants to communicate “car” but says “tar”

Auditory cue: Talk about “k” being a back sound. You open your mouth (not too wide) and then do a cough-like k sound. Remember, your tongue tip should not move up. Watch and hear me say.

Visual cue: Draw a mouth showing how the back of the tongue moves up towards the palate while the tongue tip stays at a rested position. For children who can recognize letters, you may also write/show the sound expected (use paper, clay, sand, paint, etc.)

Tactile cue: Hold your child’s hand and place it under your jaw area, towards the back part and let him/her feel the back tongue movement as you say “k” or the word “car”.


5. Understand and allot pacing when teaching and expecting from your child. Starting slowly may yield more certain and at ease results.

Start with “t” by itself then adding a vowel to make it a syllable then progressing to words-phrases.

Example, “t” –>“ta” –> “tap” –> “tap toy”

You may consider teaching a sound in a specific position first (“t” at the start of the word). Later on, production in other positions (end, middle of a word) will then develop.

Example, games including words starting with “t” such as “tag” a friend, put the donkey’s “tail”, If you’re happy and you know it, “touch” your nose.

For some children especially until the age of two, continuous exposure and drills may help develop and refine their speech intelligibility. However, if mispronunciations and speech errors continue even after several models and drills, it is best to consult a speech-language therapist.

If you have any feedback or stories to share, we’d love to receive it in the comments section below.



Bowen, C. (1998). Typical speech and language acquisition in infants and young children. Retrieved from http://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on 6 June 2016.

Gard, A., Gilman, L.  &  Gorman, J. (1993). Speech and language development chart (2nd Ed). Retrieved from http://www.srsdeaf.org/Downloads/SpeechLanguage_Development_Chart.pdf on 6 June 2016.

Martin, B. Jr. (1995). Brown bear brown bear, what do you see? London, England: Picture Puffins.

"All the information on this site is for educational purposes only and does not replace the assessment and intervention of a registered speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist or any other medical or education professional."

About Anna

Anna finds special significance in continuous learning through reading articles, observing adult-child interactions and communicating with professionals, children and parents.

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