What are the different types of speech sounds?
Updated: Mar 24
Did you know there are different types of speech sounds? Have you worked with a child in the past who has focused on back sounds, or flow sounds, and wondered what does that mean?
Well, us humans are clever things and utilise different parts of our mouth and throat, controlling airflow in particular ways to produce a range of sounds. As a native English speaker, I’ll focus on English sounds but there may be some theory you can put towards sounds in any other language you are using with your child.
Voice, Place, Manner
This is the foundation phrase Speech and Language Therapists use when referring to speech sounds. Some sounds can be loud, like a D or V sound and others can be quiet or whispered like a T or H. This refers to the use of voice, utilising the voice box for the louder sounds and switching it off (or not vibrating the vocal folds) for quieter sounds.
When looking at place, this refers to where in the mouth the sound is made i.e. at the front or the back, with the tongue, teeth or lips.
The Manner of articulation indicates air flow and whether a speech sound is made when the air flow is stopped, allowed to flow a little or whether it is a sound made when the air flows out of the nose (like when producing a M sound).
Different places of Articulation
We make speech sounds in a few different places in our mouth and throat.
Lip sounds- these sounds are made by using the lips in some sort of way. P, B and M are made with both lips pressed together, W is made with lips rounded and F and V are made with the bottom lip tucked under the top front teeth.
Alveolar sounds- this refers to the hard palatal ridge just behind your top teeth. Here we make the T, D, N, S, Z, L, SH, CH, J. These are also referred to as front sounds.
Back sounds- sounds made towards the back of the mouth include K, G, NG. There are some other sounds made here in other languages, for example the Spanish ‘j’, Greek Ɣ and German ‘ch’.
Glide sounds- these are made when articulators move, R, L, W, Y.
Stop and flow sounds
Some of the sounds that we produce are made when the airflow is stopped and then released. Think of the ‘p’ sound. We produce this sound by pressing our lips together and letting air come out of our lungs but stopping it with our closed lips. Then we release the lips and the ‘puh’ sound is made.
The same thing happens for the ‘t’ sound, except this time we use the tongue tip on the ridge behind the teeth (the alveolar ridge) to stop the air flow and then release to make the ‘tuh’ sound. Try it.
The technical term for these ‘stoppy sounds’ is plosive. Stop sounds used in English are P, B, T, D, K, G.
Other speech sounds are made by letting the air flow through our articulators. Like the ‘s’ sound. For this sound we hover the tongue tip on the ridge behind the top teeth and let the air flow through to make the ‘sss’ sound.
Now try with the ‘f’ sound. For this we need to trap the bottom lip under the top teeth gently so that we can let the air flow to make this sound. This is one of my favourite sounds to help children with because we can make a rabbit face.
The technical term for ‘flowy sounds’ is fricative. Flow sounds in English are F, V, TH, S, Z, SH, H.
How can we tell there is a problem?
When speech sound difficulties occur, it is usually because a child is replacing one type of speech sounds with another. For example, they may be replacing a front sound T with a back sound K/C (saying key instead of tea). OR they may replace a flow sound F with a stop sound D (saying dock for sock).
A Speech and Language Therapist will be able to use samples of a child’s speech, usually with a picture naming assessment, to figure out what sounds a child can say, what sounds are missing or replaced, if the child has any particular difficulty with saying a type of sound and then decide on the best way to help make these difficulties better.
If this all sounds interesting to you, I go into much more depth and theory in my online course Speech Sounds: Steps to Success. We look at types of speech sound difficulties and common replacement patterns, as well as the development of speech sounds and the age children are expected to be able to produce certain types of sounds. Then we go on to look at fun ways to remedy speech sounds at different stages of their journey, from producing single sounds to being able to use their target sounds in sentences.
There's also my Speech Sounds Games & Activities eBook (available as an instant download) which contains my favourite games to play when working on speech sound difficulties, using target sound picture and games where you don’t need pictures.
I have also created a FREE information sheet of the ages and stages of speech sound development, perfect to help you work out what sounds your child should be making at which age. Click here to get the FREEBIE!
If you’d like more advice, tips and freebies relating to working with children who have speech and language difficulties, make sure you’re signed up to receive my regular newsletters. Click here to join.