Speech acquisition data include the age typically developing children acquire consonants, consonant clusters, vowels, and tones as well as many other areas of speech. Summary data are included below.
A recent summary of children’s consonant acquisition is found in the following article that received the 2018 American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology Editor's Award:
McLeod, S. & Crowe, K. (2018). Children’s consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27, 1546-1571. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-17-0100
English consonant acquisition: Treehouse
English consonant acquisition: Steps
4 languages: English, Japanese, Korean and Spanish acquisition
Cross-linguistic trends in children's speech acquisition are summarized below. The summary is based on McLeod (2010) and relies on information from McLeod (2007). Additional information is available in Goldstein and McLeod (2012) and Zhu Hua and Dodd (2006).
Definition: The estimated amount of speech that is intelligible to a particular listener
Main languages studying this aspect: English, Finnish, and Portuguese
Definition: Age when most children (90% or 75%) can pronounce a consonant like an adult
Main finding: Wide diversity of reported ages (>2;6 years) even for languages sharing similar consonants
Main languages: Almost every of the 24 languages
Definition: Paradigmatic acquisition = Discreet vowels (e.g., in monosyllabic words) vs. Syntagmatic acquisition = Vowels in context (e.g., stressed and unstressed vowels in polysyllables)
Main findings: Paradigmatic acquisition = Approx 3-years-old; Syntagmatic acquisition = Approx 7- to 9-years-old (in English)
Main languages: Very few languages (mostly English)
Definition: Sometimes reported as percent consonants in error
Main languages: Most (including English, Finnish, German, Hungarian, Putonghua, and Welsh)
Definition: Sounds children typically produce before they achieve the adult target
Main findings: Although there are some similarities, common mismatches do differ between languages. For example, common mismatches for /s/
Main languages: A few languages including English, Greek, Japanese, Hungarian, Dutch,
Definition: Patterns that occur in children's speech
Main findings:Systemic simplifications
Definition: Sounds produced regardless of the adult target
Main findings: Vowels, nasals, and plosives appear to be the earliest sounds to be produced by children. Children produce more sounds and greater articulatory variation as they grow older.
For example, phonetic inventories of American English 1-year-olds = nasals, voiced plosives, and a glide. Phonetic inventories of Jordanian Arabic 1- to 2-year-olds = plosives, fricatives, nasals, a lateral, and approximants. Maltese 2-year-olds = nasals, plosives, a fricative, and approximants
Main languages: Many languages (including Arabic, Cantonese, English, Finnish, Maltese).
Definition: Syllable shapes produced regardless of target
Main findings: CV is a universal syllable shape (Locke, 1983) and is the earliest syllable structure to emerge. Next syllable shapes to emerge are: CVC (e.g., English, Israeli Hebrew, Maltese, Spanish), V (e.g., Korean), VC (e.g. Israeli Hebrew, Spanish)
Main languages: only a few studies
Definition: Strong and weak emphasis on different syllables
Main findings: Acquisition of stress is language-dependent. Very early acquisition (e.g., Israeli Hebrew). Later acquisition (e.g., Dutch and English)
Main languages: Few studies
Definition: Melody of speech
Main findings: Language-specific intonation patterns begins between 1 and 2 years of age (e.g., English and Hungarian). Not fully acquired until 5;0 (English). Perception continues to develop until 10 and 11 years (Wells, Peppé, & Goulandris 2004)
Main languages: Few studies
Definition: Some languages use tones to differentiate lexical meaning
Main findings: Tone acquisition was achieved by 2-year-olds (Cantonese and Putonghua)
Main languages: Cantonese and Putonghua
Zhu Hua & Dodd, B. (2006). Phonological development and disorders in children: A multilingual perspective. Cleavdon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Goldstein, B. A., & McLeod, S. (2012). Typical and atypical multilingual speech acquisition. In S. McLeod & B. A. Goldstein (Eds.), Multilingual aspects of speech sound disorders in children (pp. 84-100). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
McLeod, S. (Ed). (2007). The international guide to speech acquisition. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning.
McLeod, S. (2010). Laying the foundations for multilingual acquisition: An international overview of speech acquisition. In M. Cruz-Ferreira (Ed.), Multilingual norms (pp. 53-71). Frankfurt: Peter Lang Publishing.
Suggested citation for this page
McLeod, S. (2012). Summary of 250 cross-linguistic studies of speech acquisition. Bathurst, NSW, Australia: Charles Sturt University. Retrieved month day, year from http://www.csu.edu.au/research/multilingual-speech/speech-acquisition