Speech Intelligibility in Children: What to Expect Between Ages 2-6 and How to Support Their Development

If you have a child between the ages of 2 and 6, you may be wondering how much of their speech you should be able to understand. Being able to be understood when they speak is vital for children’s social and learning success. If other children can’t understand what your child says, your son or daughter may be excluded from play. In the classroom, teachers who cannot understand your child’s speech may not be able to identify what your child needs or knows.

Kids First’s experienced speech pathologists share helpful advice about how much of your young child’s speech you should be able to understand.

How much of my child’s speech should I be able to understand?

As a general guideline:

  • By the age of 2, you should be able to understand about 50% of what your child is saying.

  • By the age of 3, you should be able to understand about 75% of their speech

  • By the age of 4, you should be able to understand almost everything they say.

  • By the age of 5-6, your child’s speech should be largely intelligible to most people, including those who are not familiar with them.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that these are just rough estimates and every child develops at their own pace. A qualified speech pathologist can assist you if you need advice about whether your child’s speech skills are on track for their age.

How to understand my child's speech

What is ‘normal?

It’s normal for young children’s speech to be difficult to understand at times. Children are still learning how to produce sounds and words, and their speech may be unclear or contain errors.

However, if your child’s speech is consistently difficult to understand, or if they seem to be struggling with producing certain sounds, it may be a good idea to consult with a speech-language pathologist. They can evaluate your child’s speech and provide strategies to help them improve.

Understanding what your child is saying

Familiar vs Unfamiliar listeners

People who are familiar with your child listen to them speak every day. As a parent, you as well as day care or preschool teachers, and close friends or family will be used to the way your child talks and be able to understand your child more often than unfamiliar listeners who aren’t with them as often.

Familiar listeners often know what your child likes. They have frequently watched and listened to your child’s speech and can read your child’s communication cues easily.

People who are unfamiliar with your child’s speech may not see them often. Distant family members or friends, as well as new teachers or babysitters may not be able to understand your child’s speech as well as you do.

Being able to understand what your child is saying can also be dependent on the listener as well as the environment in which they meet with your child. Knowing the context of the conversation for example, understanding if your child talking about what they did at preschool or an episode of Bluey is also helpful for someone who doesn’t know your child well.

Speech intelligibility for kids aged 2-6

Is your child’s hearing OK?

It’s also important to pay attention to your child’s hearing. If your son or daughter has had frequent ear infections or if you suspect they may have a hearing problem, consult with a healthcare professional.

Remember, every child develops at their own pace, so try not to compare your child to others. With support and guidance, your child will continue to make progress with their speech and communication skills.

Concerned about the clarity of your child’s speech?

If you have any concerns or questions about your child’s speech development, don’t hesitate to reach out to a paediatric speech pathologist for guidance.

Based in Sydney’s northern beaches, Kids First’s experienced speech pathologists have helped hundreds of children learn to speak more clearly. Contact us on 9938 5419 to chat about your child’s needs now.

Learn more about speech therapy at Kids First here

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