New research presents further information of when children learn speech sounds

by Freya Lucas

November 19, 2020

Research which was presented at a major Charles Sturt University international online conference examines children’s voices, speech acquisition, multilingualism, and intelligibility, finding that across the world, almost all children aged four to five years are intelligible to family members, friends and strangers, and that intervention by a speech pathologist can reduce the impact of problems with children’s speech acquisition on literacy, socialisation, behaviour, and participation.


The research, ‘When are speech sounds learned by children across the world?’, was presented at the online Early Childhood Voices Conference, which began earlier this week attracting over 2,300 participants from more than 70 countries.


Presented by Professor Sharynne McLeod, Professor of Speech and Language Acquisition in the Charles Sturt School of Teacher Education, and Charles Sturt Adjunct Research Fellow  Dr Kate Crowe, who is based at the University of Iceland, has helped the broader early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector to learn more about these important elements of child development. 


“Many families, and education and health professionals think about children’s communication skills when considering health, development and transition to school.” Professor McLeod said.


“But until recently, limited information has been available about communication expectations for children, especially those who speak languages other than English.”


Professor McLeod outlined the aim of the research, which was to determine expectations for acquisition of consonants and intelligibility for four- to five-year-old children across the world.


“We found that across the world, almost all four- to five-year-old children are intelligible to family members, friends and strangers, have acquired most consonants within their ambient language, and can produce consonants correctly more than 90 per cent of the time,” she said.


While children across the world acquire speech skills at a young age, some variation occurs and synthesis of knowledge from multiple sources is recommended.


“If families or professionals are concerned about a child’s speech, support from speech-language pathologists is warranted so we encourage them to contact a communication specialist to reduce impact on literacy, socialisation, behaviour, and participation,” Professor McLeod added.


A free assessment tool– the Intelligibility in Context Scale  ̶  is available in more than 60 languages to help educators and others who are interested to determine if professional support is required. 


All presentations at the online Early Childhood Voices Conference will be available online between 16 and 20 November 2020, and many will remain online after the conference.


Free posters that summarise the research are available online.