Speech Intelligibility: How Well Do You Understand Your Child?

What is Speech Intelligibility?  Intelligibility refers to the clarity of speech, or how much of someone’s speech a listener can understand. Parents often worry when their child is not understood by others. 

It is common for young children to make mistakes as they learn to say words. There is also a lot of variability in speech development between children.  However, as your child learns to talk, their ability to be understood by others should steadily increase.  So, how can you tell if your child’s speech intelligibility is on track or falling behind?

Dr. Peter Flipsen, Jr.  has developed a simple formula to use as a guide to evaluate a child’s speech clarity in conversational speech with unfamiliar listeners (Flipsen, 2006).  He suggests dividing your child’s age by four.  For example, if your child is three years old, divide three by four and you will get .75, or 75%.  This means, on average, someone talking to your child for the first time should understand at least 75% of what your child is saying.

The most common factors affecting how well a child is understood are the presence of speech sound errors. The number, type and consistency of errors can affect how easily someone can understand your child.  If your child does not meet Dr. Flipsen’s averages, your child may require speech therapy.  A speech pathologist can help identify if there is a problem and determine appropriate interventions to correct the errors.