Baby's First Year · Parenting

Encouraging your baby’s first sounds

Young mother playing with baby on her lap

When my daughter was born, I held my wife’s hand, looked reassuringly into her eyes and listened to the sounds around us.  The lights hummed, machinery whirred and monitors beeped constantly while the friendly doctors talked world events and then suddenly…

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH” our daughter was born.  Was she ever LOUD!

Even the docs commented on it.  She didn’t stop either, just kept on going and going…

We still laugh about it, but these days I reflect more on the fact that this beautiful little girl was finding her voice that day as well as filling her lungs with air.  In fact, the sounds of a child crying are very much the sounds of vowel development.

The smallest unit of sound that we can utter is a “phoneme”.   A phoneme is any single sound like [ah] [ee] [ssss] [mmmm]… I’ve tried to write them the way they sound. Basically, they’re either vowels or consonants!

English speakers think of vowels as the letters: ‘a, e, i, o and u’, but there are actually more than twenty-five different vowel sounds in human language.  

The chart below is like a map of the mouth that shows where and how sounds are made.  The sound “eeeeeee” is shown by the symbol /i/ – Notice how you push your tongue upwards in the middle of your mouth, your lower lip drops and your vocal cords vibrate to make that sound.  My daughter uses that vowel when she’s happy and excited.  It’s kind of interesting that you have to smile when you make that sound, no wonder!

map of the mouth that shows where and how sounds are made

Let’s take a look at the consonant sounds, too. I’m not surprised that the earliest consonants are made with lips – I mean, after all, they get so much practice using their lips, tongue and jaw making a latch to feed!  The times when these consonant phonemes grow and develop over the first several years of life are called the milestones for speech development.

There is a lot of overlap with sound development, but this chart shows the age when we expect a child to have a sound.  They may get it earlier, but if it’s later than in this chart they may need an assessment by a speech-language pathologist.

Age Sounds acquired
0-3 years p, b, m, n, t, d, h, w, and vowels
3.5 years k, g, f, y, ng
4 years s, sp, sm, sn, st, sw, sk and z
4.5 years l, pl, bl, kl, gl, fl and sh
5 years ch, j
8 years v, th, r, pr, br, tr, dr, kr, gr, fr

Be aware that your child listens to words and notices the different sounds coming from your mouth that make the word.  Children learn all the sounds of speech by eight years of age.  A young child may make errors that are appropriate depending on their age.  For example, an 18 month old child may say “Tat!” instead of ‘cat’, but by three and a half, they should be able to say that sound easily.

If your child is not meeting their expressive language or speech milestones, inform your child’s physician and call Early Abilities to refer your child for a speech and language assessment at (416) 338-8255 or visit our website to make an online referral.

Try to emphasize the sounds that make familiar words in a fun way.

What was your baby’s first sound?  Share by commenting below.

As of April 1, 2022 the Preschool Speech and Language, Blind-Low Vision and Infant Hearing programs have moved from Toronto Public Health (Early Abilities) to Surrey Place. To register for services or learn more about the programs, please visit Surrey Place or call 416-925-5141.

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