- Across the world, almost all children aged four to five years are intelligible to family members, friends and strangers
- Intervention by a speech pathologist can reduce the impact of problems with children’s speech acquisition on literacy, socialisation, behaviour, and participation
New research presented at a major Charles Sturt University international online conference examines children’s voices, speech acquisition, multilingualism, and intelligibility.
The research, ‘When are speech sounds learned by children across the world?’, will be presented at the online Early Childhood Voices Conference, which starts today and has now attracted over 2,300 participants from more than 70 countries.
The research is by Professor Sharynne McLeod, Professor of Speech and Language Acquisition in the Charles Sturt School of Teacher Education, and Charles Sturt Adjunct Research Fellow Dr Kate Crowe, who is based at the University of Iceland.
“Many families, and education and health professionals think about children’s communication skills when considering health, development and transition to school.” Professor McLeod said.
“But until recently, limited information has been available about communication expectations for children, especially those who speak languages other than English.
“Our aim was to determine expectations for acquisition of consonants and intelligibility for four- to five-year-old children across the world.
“We found that across the world, almost all four- to five-year-old children are intelligible to family members, friends and strangers, have acquired most consonants within their ambient language, and can produce consonants correctly more than 90 per cent of the time.”
Professor McLeod said while children across the world acquire speech skills at a young age, some variation occurs and synthesis of knowledge from multiple sources is recommended.
“If families or professionals are concerned about a child’s speech, support from speech-language pathologists is warranted so we encourage them to contact a communication specialist to reduce impact on literacy, socialisation, behaviour, and participation,” she said.
“There is a free assessment – the Intelligibility in Context Scale ̶ in more than 60 languages to help you determine if professional support is required.
“We also confirm that children are good at learning new languages and saying different sounds in languages.”
The comprehensive research consisted of three large-scale reviews of children’s speech acquisition that are freely available:
Review One analysed 64 studies of consonant acquisition by 26,007 children from 31 countries in 27 languages (Afrikaans, Arabic, Cantonese, Danish, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Jamaican Creole, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Maltese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Setswana, Slovenian, Spanish, Swahili, Turkish, and Xhosa) (McLeod & Crowe, 2018). This review won the prestigious AJSLP Editor’s Award in 2019.
Review Two analysed 15 studies reporting consonant acquisition of 18,907 children acquiring English in the United States (Crowe & McLeod, 2020).
Review Three analysed 18 studies of parents’ responses on the Intelligibility in Context Scale for 4,235 children from 14 countries (Australia, Croatia, Fiji, Germany, Hong Kong SAR China, Italy, Korea, Jamaica, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Viet Nam) speaking 14 languages (Cantonese, Croatian, Dutch, English, Fijian, Fiji-Hindi, German, Italian, Jamaican Creole, Korean, Portuguese, Slovenian, Swedish, Vietnamese) (McLeod, 2020).
This research was funded by Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP180102848), and this conference presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:
All presentations at the online Early Childhood Voices Conference will be available online between 16 and 20 November 2020, and many will remain online after the conference.
Free posters that summarise the research are available online.