Oral Language Development: Sounds…sounds into words.

I will use a Sound-Word-Sentence-Discourse framework to trace the development of oral language and its relationship to reading, beginning here with Sounds. Both the oral language development literature and the reading development literature are relevant. Taking the position that learning to read begins with oral language, an understanding of language development is critical.

We can trace the development of sounds and phonology (specifically, for our interests in early literacy, phonological awareness and the alphabetic principle)

*discrimination and articulation of sounds
*phonological awareness
*the alphabetic principles (sound/letter relationships)

Sounds: Oral Language Development Literature
There are several relevant developmental progressions for “sounds” or “sounds into words”. Of course, children learn about “sounds” before they learn about “written” words, although they know a great deal about “oral” words before they can read them.

From the Oral Speech/Language Literature, we can trace the development of discrimination and articulation of sounds (phonetics). Note that children start using sounds in early infancy. Mastery of specific sounds develops over 5 years—from age 2 to 7–on average, beginning with easy to produce sounds (p, b, m). Mastery of particular sounds differs depending on the position in a word. See the links below for more specific details.

Development of articulation skills
“Believe it or not, children begin to develop these skills starting at BIRTH! I know I know, babies are not born talking…but they are born listening and listening is the first step in learning how to produce speech sounds, which in turn will turn into meaningful words, phrases and sentences! If I remember correctly (I’ll go find the study and link it back here) children learn the sounds of their native language by NINE MONTHS OF AGE!…”

“Children develop the ability to produce speech sounds at different rates. For example, research shows that two year olds are 50-75% intelligible, while three-year olds are 75-100% intelligible. That means it’s normal if a 3-year old talks, and you only understand 3/4 of what he/she says…..”

Articulation Development Chart

Commercial Product (I am not endorsing these products, simply noting that they are available to measure “sound” development.


Phonology—Sounds and Words: The Reading Literature
From the Reading Literature, we can trace the development of phonology (specifically, for our interests in early literacy, phonological awareness and the alphabetic principle)

From Louisa Cook Moats, Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers, 2nd Edition, Brooks Publishing, 2010.

Chapter 2 (Phonetics: The Sounds of Speech) takes the reader through Reading and Spelling Development. Of particular interest are the stages of mastering the Alphabetic Principle outlined in a graphic based on Ehri’s [(1994) and Ehri and Snowling’s work (2004). (p. 11)

Prealphabetic (“Children do not understand that letters represent the sounds in words.”) to Early Alphabetic (letters correspond to the sounds that make up spoke words: typically at K age or about 5-5 ½). Subsequent stages are Later Alphabetic (recognition of chunks, grapheme-phoneme connections) and then Consolidated Alphabetic
rank orders 10 Phonological awareness tasks from easiest to most difficult and the percentage of 4 and 5 year olds able to complete each type of task successfully

Chapter 3 (Phonology: Speech Sounds in Use) provides a picture of the development of phonological awareness (pp. 56-59)
Table 3.2 (From Paulson, Lucy Hart (2004). The easiest task was blending syllables (84% for 4 year olds; 92% for 5 year olds); followed by segmenting syllables (62%-81%), rhyme detection (58%-74%), alliteration categorization (53%-71%); the remaining 6 skills fall below 50% for 4 year olds. Five year olds complete the following tasks above 50%–blending onset/rime, alliteration detecting and rhyme production. The final 3 skills: blending phonemes, segmenting onset/rime and segmenting phonemes were challenging for most 4 and 5 year olds.

And so…can we teach children about sounds and their relationship to print?
ASHA presentation on
Bringing Letter Sounds to Life: Merging Phonemic Awareness and Phonics

Bringing Letter Sounds to Life: Merging Phonemic Awareness and Phonics
Presented by:
Marianne Nice M.S CCC-SLP
Amy Leone M.S.T. CCC-SLP