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Phonology vs Articulation: What is the Difference?

Therapist And Child Working On Articulation

Phonological processes, articulation disorder, speech sound disorder…say what?

If you’re a parent whose child has trouble saying certain sounds correctly then you might have heard some of these terms before.

Online research, talking with other parents, and the results of a Speech Therapy Evaluation can lead you to terminology that’s sometimes confusing. Knowing what these diagnoses refer to, and which one best describes your child’s speech errors, can help guide the road to improvement.

Speech Sound Disorders

There are several reasons why a child’s speech might be difficult to understand. If he or she has trouble saying sounds by the expected age might have a Speech Sound Disorder.

There are several types of Speech Sound Disorders, including:

You might see some overall signs and symptoms like these if your child has a Speech Sound Disorder:

  • Decreased speech intelligibility (the degree to which others can understand them)
  • Certain sounds seem to be distorted
    Substituting one sound for another
  • Leaving off sounds or parts of words

Sometimes the cause of a Speech Sound Disorder is unknown. When a child shows signs of Speech Sound Disorder, it can be helpful to understand whether they are having difficulty with the Phonology or Articulation of sounds.

Here are the differences between the two, and how to help your child improve his or her speech.


Articulation refers to how an individual uses the muscles in their mouth (lips, tongue), their teeth, and the jaw to produce sounds. As these structures are developing, it is typical for children to have difficulty articulating certain sounds.

Here are the sounds that a child is expected to be able to say at certain ages, in the initial (beginning), medial (middle), and final (end) of words:

Sound Development Chart

An Articulation Disorder is when a child has trouble making a certain sound past the time when it is expected for their age.

Types of Articulation Disorders are:

Substitution: A sound is substituted for a different sound. (“sink” for think)

Omission: A sound is left out. (“ta” for tap)

Distortion: Making a sound in a distorted way. (like a lisp, where the the tongue is pushed forward while saying the “s” sound)

Addition: An extra sound or syllable is added to a word. (“suh-wing” for swing)

A child can have several different articulation errors for various sounds. Each articulation error affects a single sound.


Here’s where it gets a little tricky.

There’s also something called Phonology. This has to do with the overall sound system of language. Think of phonology as the rules and patterns that guide how we say sounds or combinations of sounds.

For example, the “K” and “G” sounds are made in the back of the mouth.

When a child has a Phonological Disorder, they break some of these rules and it affects how they say more than one sound.

In the case of a Phonological Disorder, a child is using something called a phonological process (or phonological pattern) . These are patterns of sound errors. Children typically use them as a way to simplify speech as they learn to talk.

It’s normal for children to use some of these phonological patterns. Different phonological processes are expected to resolve at different ages. Certain errors aren’t considered typical at any age.

Here are some examples of phonological processes:

Backing: A sound that should be made with the tongue tip (like “T” and “D”) are substituted with sounds in the back of the mouth, like “K” and “G”.


Example: “gog” for “dog”


This error is not considered typical at any age.


Fronting: Sounds that should be made in the back of the mouth (“K” and “G”) are made in the front of the mouth (“T” and “D”).


Example: “tat” for “cat”


Typically resolves by age: 3 ½ years-old


Gliding: The “R” sound is made as a “W”, and the “L” sound is made as a “W” or “Y”.


Example: “yion” for “lion”


Typically resolves by age: 6 years-old.


Assimilation: One consonant sound sounds like another sound in the same word.


Example: “gig” for “pig”


Typically resolves by age: 3 years-old.


Weak Syllable Deletion: An unstressed syllable in a word is left off.


Example: “nana” for “banana”


Typically resolves by age: 4 years-old.

How to Help if Your Child has a Speech Sound Disorder

When it comes to the differences between articulation and phonology, remember:
An articulation error affects a single sound and has to do with the structure or movement of the facial muscles used when making the sound.
A phonological disorder occurs when the rules of the sound system are broken and patterns are made to simplify sounds and words as children learn to talk.

If you’re concerned that your child has either an articulation disorder or a phonological disorder, you should start by scheduling an evaluation with a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP).

During that evaluation, the therapist will likely talk to your child to estimate how easy their speech can be understood and take note of any sound errors present. The therapist will also likely administer a test that might include showing your child pictures and asking him or her to name them.
The Speech Therapist will be looking for articulation errors and phonological patterns to determine which type of speech sound disorder is present.
If the SLP recommends that your child receive weekly Speech Therapy, the sessions will focus on improving either how your child articulates a specific sound or eliminating a phonological pattern by focusing on the rules of how to make the sound or group of sounds.
During the course of therapy, the SLP may give you recommendations on how to help your child improve their speech at home.
For example, a child having trouble articulating the “S” sound might work on looking in a mirror and keeping their tongue behind their teeth as they make the sound. If a child uses the phonological process of weak syllable deletion, he or she might practice clapping while slowly saying each syllable in a longer word like “bicycle”.
It’s important to practice sounds at home and carryover techniques your child is practicing in therapy sessions to ensure they make the best amount of progress.

Additional Resources

Understanding terms related to Speech Sound Disorders can be a challenge! But because articulation disorders and phonological disorders can affect how well others understand a child at home, school, and around their peers, it’s truly important to address.
If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language skills, specialized services from a Speech-Language Pathologist can help. An initial evaluation can help determine what difficulties your child is having. Ongoing individualized therapy can include techniques and activities to help improve these areas.

TherapyWorks offers speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy both in person (in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio) and through teletherapy (nationwide). If you would like to learn more, or discuss your child’s specific needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to TherapyWorks!

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