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Why Is My Child Having Trouble Pronouncing Words?

By Kelli Johnson, MA

Question: My grandson is 7 and still mispronounces words—even short and simple ones. Why is he having trouble with this?

Answer:

When kids are first learning to talk, it’s common for them to make mistakes in their speech. They substitute sounds, like saying tat when they mean cat. They also leave out sounds, like asking for a poon when they really want a spoon.

Sometimes kids shorten words to make them easier to pronounce. Many of my younger students ask to play on my ’puter when they want computer time. It’s how they communicate their needs while they’re still learning to imitate the sounds they’re hearing.

As kids get older, they usually stop making these mistakes. By age 8, they’re expected to make all their speech sounds the right way. And they should be understandable by a wide range of people. 

So, why do some kids have trouble with this while others find it so easy to pronounce words? We don’t know for sure. Kids can struggle with speech in different ways.

Some have trouble with the tongue and mouth movements needed to make speech sounds. Others make mistakes in whole groups of sounds. 

They might replace all sounds made in the back of the mouth (like k and g) with ones made in the front of the mouth (like t and d). But they may not recognize the difference between dot and got or understand why it matters.

You’re describing a problem with pronunciation. That’s different from trouble with the language part of speaking. Kids who struggle with spoken language pronounce words the right way but use them the wrong way.

There are ways to help kids who have trouble pronouncing words. Teachers and health care providers can be great sources of information. They may also recommend next steps, like speech therapy to help build skills. Schools may offer speech therapy for free. There are also speech therapists who work outside of school.

Some kids are embarrassed by having difficulty with speech. One thing you can do at home is to help kids discover strengths. Let them know that skills can improve with work. That helps kids stay motivated to keep working on challenges.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom