Different types of speech difficulties: Articulation and Phonological errors

August 8, 2018

What is speech development?

There are many aspects a speech pathologist considers when assessing a child’s speech development, including whether a child has articulation or phonological errors. All children, from babies, to toddlers, to pre-schoolers, to school-age kids will make mistakes with their speech sounds as they learn to talk. These mistakes are a normal part of speech development. However there are difficulties if these errors persist longer than expected or if a child develops their speech sound system differently than expected.

There are two types of speech errors… articulation errors and phonological errors (known as “phonological processes”).

What are Articulation Errors?

An articulation error is when a child can’t pronounce a speech sound at all, or they say the sound incorrectly. Articulation errors change the way a message sounds but do not change the meaning of what someone is trying to say. The most common articulation error is an “interdental lisp” where a /th/ sound is said instead of an /s/ sound. 70% of children up to the age of 4 ½ will talk with an interdental lisp.

Here is an example of an articulation error where a child has a ‘lisp’, i.e. uses a /th/ sound instead of /s/ sounds. See if you can understand what the child is saying…

“I can thee theven thocks in the bathket over there.”

Most people will be able to understand what has been said.

‘I can see seven socks in the basket over there.’

Speech Pathologists teach children with articulation errors how to pronounce the sound.

What are Phonological Errors?

A phonological error is when a child says one sound instead of another. This happens in a pattern and is called a “phonological process”.

When a toddler wants to say words that have sounds in them that they can’t say yet, the toddler will use easier sounds in the place of the later developing sounds they can’t say yet.

All kids use these error patterns as they learn to talk and develop their speech sounds.

These patterns of errors generally resolve themselves at different ages for the various types of errors. For example,

The error pattern of ‘Final consonant deletion’ (leaving off sounds from the end of words) is generally present in young children up until the age of 3 years 3 months.

The error pattern of ‘cluster reduction’ (omitting sounds from consonant blends – sp -> p: spoon -> poon) is generally present in pre-schoolers up until the age of 4 years.

This way these error patterns resolve usually follow a pattern for most children, and children’s speech continues to evolve until a child has learnt to say all the consonant speech sounds, usually by age 7.

Here is an example of a phonological error where a child is using a /d/ sound that they can say instead of a tricky /s/ sound. See if you can understand what the child is saying…

‘I’m dared there id a dider hiding in my dock.’

This can be quite tricky to understand, particularly to an unfamiliar person. A child’s parents are usually better than others at understanding what their child has said but can still have trouble understanding their child all the time. This time, the child is saying:

‘I’m scared there is a spider hiding in my sock.’

 Phonological errors can change the meaning of the words and the message that is being conveyed. This can be confusing for the listener and frustrating for the child who is not being understood.

Because children with phonological errors can usually say the sound they are having trouble using, Speech Pathologist help them to change the pattern of their errors.


If you have concerns about your child’s speech sounds development or about how clearly they talk, an assessment by a speech pathologist is recommended. A speech pathologist assesses a child’s speech sound development, considering many different factors such as the sounds your child does and does not use, the types of errors, the number of errors, the overall speech clarity and the age of the child. We will be writing a blog discussing more about speech pathologists’ assessments.

How can I help my child?

  1. Make sure your child has adequate hearing for speech and language development – have their hearing tested by an audiologist.
  2. Consider the level of background noise that is generally around them at home.
  3. Keep modelling clear speech to your child – if your child says a word incorrectly, let them hear you say the word. You can do this in a conversational way, rather than specifically correcting your child’s speech.
  4. Make sure you are facing your child and they are looking at you when you want them to listen to you. They will take in much more information by seeing you talk in addition to listening to you.
  5. Have your child assessed by a speech pathologist if you have concerns about the way their speech sounds.
  6. Seek advice promptly as it is important for children to enter into school with their speech sound system well developed.

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