How well words can be understood by parents?
-By 18 months a child's speech is normally 25% intelligible
-By 24 months a child's speech is normally 50 -75% intelligible
-By 36 months a child's speech is normally 75-100% intelligible
Lynch, Brookshire & Fox (1980), p. 102, cited in Bowen (1998).


At Huntington Speech & Feeding, many children come through our doors with “difficult to understand” speech. The majority of these kids either have an articulation or phonological disorder. What is the difference between the two and why are some children easily understood while others are not? What else do we need to look at?


We always want to begin by recommending a hearing screening to our clients to ensure that the child is hearing at all frequencies and that structure is intact. We also want to understand if there has been a history of ear infections since birth. Hearing loss can have a profound impact on sound development and processing in the early years.


Poor articulation is another factor resulting in reduced intelligibity. Articulation is the physical process by which sounds, syllables, and words are formed when your tongue, jaw, teeth, lips, and palate alter the air stream coming from the vocal folds. When an individual cannot produce or distorts age-expected sound/s, it draws attention away from the speaker’s message. Articulation errors are motor in nature and can occur among people of any age; however, they are most common in children. Most common articulation errors include difficulty producing /s/, /th/, /r/, /l/ and /sh/. Vowels can also be impacted. Kids can even have difficulty producing /k/ and /g/ sounds in the back of the mouth.



A phonological disorder is also a sound disorder where simplification of the sound system affects intelligibility. Students with phonological disorders demonstrate difficulty in acquiring a phonological system; involving organizing the patterns of sounds in the brain and the output, not necessarily in the motor production of the sounds like articulation errors. Errors become categorized as disordered when they do not naturally remediate by a certain age.

A phonological process is a patterned modification of the adult speech system. For example, a phonological process called fronting is when back sounds /k/ and /g/ are replaced with FRONT sounds (car=tar, doat/goat, etc). This error pattern should not persist past the age of 3 years but it is typical before then.

Listed below are some common error patterns.


1. Fronting- /k/ is substituted by /t/ (e.g. car=tar)
2. Stopping- /s/ is substituted with /t/ (e.g. sun=tun)
3. Syllable Deletion- (e.g. underwear=unwear)
4. Cluster Reduction- /st/ is reduced to /s/ or /t/ (e.g. star=tar or sar)
5. Gliding- (rabbit=”wabbit”/ lamp= “wamp”)


These kids are typically

1. Very difficult to understand even with high cognitive abilities.
2. Show frustration when communicating and may shut down.
3. Use one sound for several different sounds.
4. Cannot self correct when they have an error.
5. Imitate a sound in isolation but they do not use this sound in spontaneous speech
6. Confuse pronouns (I/me, him /he) and show grammatical errors.


*Please see the chart at the bottom of the blog defining the different phonological processes and the age in which they should no longer be used. There is also a chart on customary consonant development.


Both articulation and phonological disorders place a child at risk for writing and reading disorders. Phonological awareness difficulties are highly representative in children with dyslexia.



If your child is demonstrating some of the errors mentioned above, it would be helpful to contact a licensed speech-language pathologist. We are well versed at with sound disorders at Huntington Speech & Feeding and can provide a comprehensive assessment and intervention plan for you!  Please call us for more information!

Common Phonological Errors Chart (push here)

Age of Customary Consonant Production Norms Chart (push here)


97 Little Neck Road
Centerport, NY 11721

Copyright © 2022. Huntington Speech and Feeding.

Bar Harbor Web Design.