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What is articulation?

Articulation (are tih kyoo LAY shun) is the process of making speech sounds by moving the tongue, lips, jaw, and soft palate. Children learn speech by imitating the sounds they hear as you talk about what you are doing during the day, sing songs, and read books to them.

Children begin developing speech as an infant. By 6 months of age, babies coo and play with their voices making sounds like "oo, da, ma, and goo." As your baby grows he will begin to babble, making more consonants like "b" and "k" with different vowel sounds. Your child will continue to imitate sounds and word shapes, and these will turn into natural, spontaneous speech.

Although children begin to develop speech as infants, they do not learn to make all speech sounds at one time. Every sound has a different, but predictable, range of ages for when the child should make the sound correctly. Articulation errors are a normal part of speech development. Most children will make mistakes as they learn to say new words. By the time the child is 3 years old, speech should be understandable about 80 percent of the time. By the time the child is 4 years old, speech should be understandable almost all the time, although there may still be sound errors. Children should be able to make all of the sounds of the English language correctly by the time they are 8 years old.

What is an articulation delay or disorder?

An articulation delay or disorder happens when errors continue past a certain age. Articulation errors can occur at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. The following are the 3 most common articulation errors:

  • Replacing one (1) sound for another – bacuum for vacuum.
  • Omitting a sound – bue for blue.
  • Distorting a sound – you recognize the sound, but it sounds funny. A lisp is a distortion of /s/ and is caused when the tongue sticks out past the teeth.

Not all sound replacements and omissions are considered speech errors. Instead, they may be related to a dialect or accent.

The chart below gives general guidelines for the age when children learn to make certain speech sounds.


Why do some children have problems with articulation?

Many articulation errors happen for reasons we do not understand. Your child may not learn how to make the sounds correctly or may not learn the rules of speech on his own. Physical problems can also affect articulation, such as the following:

  1. Illness that lasts a long time – Stimulation may be limited
  2. Hearing loss – Speech is learned by listening. For this reason, frequent ear infections can slow down speech sound development in young children.
  3. Brain tumors – Tumors may affect speech centers of the brain or weaken muscles of the lips, palate, tongue, or vocal cords.
  4. Developmental disorders (like autism)
  5. Neurological disorders (like cerebral palsy)

An articulation delay or disorder is a problem when:

  • Listeners do not understand what the child is saying;
  • The child is frustrated and misbehaves because he cannot express what he wants;
  • The child avoids situations where he needs to speak; and
  • The child is embarrassed or worried about how he sounds or because others make fun of his speech.

How you can help

  • Talk to your child and play with him. This is a chance to make talking fun and model correct speech sounds for him.
  • Face your child when you talk to him and work at his level.
  • Do not interrupt or constantly correct your child.
  • Do not reinforce errors by imitating them. Instead, model the correct way to make the sound. For example, if your child says, “That’s a wellow duck,” you say, “Yes, that’s a yellow duck. A yellow baby duck. The sun is yellow, too.”
  • Reward your child with praise for saying the sound correctly or give him credit for trying.
  • Read to your child. Use reading as a way to surround your child with the targeted sound. For example, read Goodnight Moon if the child is working on the /g/ sound. Use meals, bath time, bedtime, playtime, and other daily routines to work on speech. These activities can be great learning moments.


If you have questions about articulation, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).