Deciphering A 3-Year Old’s Speech Impediment

Our 3-year old son is full-on talking.

Often, sounds come out of his mouth in an effort to transmit some form of communication.  However, an adorable toddler speech impediment sometimes makes the “receive” part of the conversation difficult.

The other morning, I spent about 20 minutes at the steering wheel of my car trying to decipher a sentence while also trying to calm a frustrated fit because of my failure to infer the true meaning of my son’s expression.

Our son’s speech is currently speckled by an adorable toddler lisp, an Elmer Fudd-esque “R/W” transposition,  and a tendency to mimic his father’s New England accent.

This means that the word:


comes out something more like:


 Please keep this in mind as you read the following sentence.

As I drove to the gym, my son asked a very random question and it sounded exactly like this:

“Why tototh don hab chewohwsth?  Whyyyyyy????”

Knowing that he gets upset if you repeat the way that he said something incorrectly (because he hears the proper pronunciation in his head when he says things like “Punty Teefth” instead of “Chuck E Cheese”), I was careful not to repeat the mispronunciation of whatever it was he was trying to say.

So, I dissected it.

I was pretty sure “tototh” referred to “turtles” but I was having trouble with the second part of the sentence.

“Chewohwsth” seemed to mostly correlate with the word “chairs”.

“Why do turtles not have chairs???!!!”  I asked him.

And he wailed because he felt I was mocking him,


So, I guessed again.

“Why do turtles not have tears???”

And he wailed again.


He was getting UP-SET.

Then, I said,

“Ummmm?  I’m sorry, honey.  I’m not understanding what you are trying to say.  Can you please say it again?”

I asked that to buy some more time and in hopes he might give a more phonetically-friendly answer.

“Why tototh don hab CHEW-OH-WSTH????”

Oh, Boy.

Think. Think. Think.

I thought of a solution.

“Can you tell me what animal DOES have…..uh….one of those???”

He answered:

“Awigatoh.  Awigatohth hab dose.”

AHA!!! I thought-  I’m getting somewhere.   What do alligators have that sounds like “Chewohwsth”?

So, I shouted:


And our son screamed:




And then I got it.

It was as apparent as the exposed tag and internal seams of the inside-out dress I wore to work after a year of nursing-induced sleep deprivation and in-the-dark dressing one memorable day.

“TAILS???!!! TAILS!!!! TAILS!!!!”

You’d think I’d have won the Texas State Lottery.

His eyes lit up.  The streaming tears seemed to stop spontaneously mid-stream.  The whales in the Pacific could resume their mating calls after trying to respond to the distress signals my son had been sending through his high-decibel fit.

A crack of a smile lifted.



I answered,

“But, son!  They DO have tails!”

He argued.

“No.  No, dey don.  

Awigatohth hab chewowsth.  

Tototh don hab chewowsth.”

I considered whether or not pursuing this conversation with a 3-year old was really worth the pyrrhic victory of having him agree with me.

And, so I wrapped up the conversation with:

“I don’t know, son.  

I don’t know why turtles don’t have tails.”

But, People.  I KNOW they have tails.

What can I say?

The kid broke me down.

Right.  Like you would have pursued that one, too.




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37 Responses to Deciphering A 3-Year Old’s Speech Impediment

  1. Ah, I feel your pain! I am so glad you posted this because now I know I’m not the only one!

    When my 4 year old daughter was learning to talk she had the craziest accent like she was from New York. I have no idea where the accent came from considering we live in the south. She’s grown out of it now.

    Now I have my 2.5 year old starting to talk. I can NOT understand a word she says! Mostly because she’s not saying actual words, it’s more like,

    Momma! Why huh huh ha huh hee huh huh ha heehuh?

    Wait, what?! She knows exactly what she’s saying too because she can repeat the same gibberish over and over again until she get’s upset by how many times I ask her to repeat herself.

    The new rule in the house is, if Momma has to ask what she’s saying more than twice ask the 4 year old to translate! lol

  2. Aleacia- I KNOW!!! I always feel so bad- It really hurts their feelings when we don’t get it the first time! Smart to call in the pre-school reinforcements. :) But, then again- they just went through it, too- so they are the best translators. :) Thanks for the comment! Can’t wait to check out your Eric Carle inspired art!!!

    • Andra- I heard you on the video with the little lizard in your bathroom….you enunciate perfectly. :)

  3. Omg Tricia… This totally could’ve been a day in my life. I have a three year old boy too and I play the same games trying to figure out what he says sometimes. Although I do get it most of the time (and leave people in awe about it). I wonder if your son and my son could understand each other perfectly lol

    • Bonnie- I bet our kids would be rapping like old friends. :) I usually get my son’s speech- but everyone once in a while he throws me a curve ball! Thanks for the comment! Love your bright cosmetic bags! Really pretty!

  4. OMG this made me laugh out loud. We’ve never dealt with a speech impediment but I’m currently dealing with an 18 month old who uses the “more” sign for EVERYTHING. He jams his fingers together so intensely and is looking at me with these eyes like Why don’t you know what I MEAN Woman?!? I offer him food or milk or a book or a toy and he shakes his head and says No No NO!! It is such a feeling of satisfaction when I after the 100th guess I discover the thing he actually wanted and he gives me a huge toothy grin. Thanks for the laugh – I keep trying to pronounce chewowsth out loud and am cracking myself up.

    • Hahahaha, Julie! I’m just impressed your 18 month old is signing! I was sure I’d be one of those signing moms- Turns out, I didn’t have the discipline. ha! Maybe one day, I’ll get to see your kid signing in person! :) Thanks for the comment- I do appreciate it! :)

  5. When my son started talking, he would talk through his nose. Sounded like ‘gna, gn gn gna gn gn’ I didn’t have a clue…lol

    • Kaye- ha! Oh my goodness- I’m trying to do it with a silent g and without a silent g- Either way- I wouldn’t have a clue, either. hahaha!

  6. So cute!! I miss my girls being toddlers. They’re 5 and 7 now and all those cute sayings have passed. I watched a video of them a few days ago from 3 years ago and it’s crazy how fast they change.

    • Wicked Noodle- What a cool blog name! Oh- I’m sad thinking of the passing days and how I could forget how the kids sound right now! :) Thanks for the reminder to take more video!

  7. This was hilarious and good to know its in my future. But I can relate to Julie right now. My 13 months old signs ‘more’ for everyhing too. Even though she most likey knows the correct sign she uses ‘more’ as her go to sign. It really does feel like hitting the jackpot when I figure out what she wants after 5 straight minutes of her banging her fingers together. I’d love to know whats going thru her mind when I continually give her the wrong thing, lol!

    • Sandie- I am just so impressed you had the patience and willpower to stick with teaching sign language. That is awesome!

    • Angie- I wouldn’t worry about it! Some kids don’t talk until later- but if you do start to worry about it, getting her hearing checked is a good idea! I’ve had a few friends whose kids had delayed speech and it turns out their ears were the problem- But, I think your baby is just fine. :) And adorable, too!

    • Chrissy- Video is the bane of my digital existence. It is HUGE. I have a storage problem. So, I find that I take it sparingly and I worry I’ll regret that. :) Technology has not made our lives easier. :) More expensive, maybe- but the convenience makes the data management much harder. :)

    • Maryanne- I know! I just didn’t have it in me to discuss for another 20 minutes all the reasons he should believe turtle actually do have tails. :) Great feature on Andie’s blog!

  8. Unfortunately, because I don’t use “toddler speak” anymore, I’m way too rusty. Congrats on breaking the code without a meltdown from son and more importantly, yourself! hehe

  9. I was saying a loud all the sentences in the hopes of deciphering it, to no avail!! Hahahaha! A very good post Trish! hahaha I have a 2 year-old, most of the time she sounded Chinese to me.

  10. There’s a Hawaiian restaurant here called Hula Hands, Jackson calls it “Healing Hands.”

    They also call the fireballs in Super Mario Bros. “meatballs.”

    Not really speech impediments, just silly:)

  11. I LOVE this story and LOVE your determination to figure out what he was talking about and not “insult” his pronunciation or his “knowledge” about tails. Beyond sweet.

    I’m reminded of the time my daughter wrote a story and asked me to illustrate it. (She was probably six?) The main character was a “draf” and I had NO idea what to draw.

    She sighed and came up with a picture of her own.

    Of a giraffe.

    Silly Mommy.

    • Julie- Draf? Of course it was a giraffe! haha! I wasn’t trying to not insult him. I was trying to avoid nuclear meltdown. :)

    • Nami- Haha! hystewickle? Love that word! Thanks- I have to admit- as things like this happen, I thank the Bloggy Gods for giving me material. :)

  12. I’m so glad you included a translation or I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight trying to figure it out.

    My daughter, at age 2, around 11pm, used to say: “isa booooo!!!!”
    it was terrible not knowing what she wanted, and around the 5th night, who knows how, my husband deciphered it: “do you want some food? !!!” we figured, this is what she heard whenever she was hungry so that is how she was asking us now. We would give her crackers and apple juice and stare at her cuteness like if she was a chipmunk. 13 years later we still ask her “isa bu”? before we feed her.

    • Victoria- Thank you so much for reading- I hope you guys are doing well! Isa bu? That is adorable! Our daughter misses you a lot- she asks about you all the time!!! :)

        • Victoria- That’s a far away dream right now- Maybe when the kids are older. I’m enjoying what I’m doing through the blog and so appreciate you find the time to read anything on it! Thank you!

      • I miss you guys and your incredibly talented mini-me. I keep getting mail from parents so I want to set up a summer camp in Laredo, there are a few things slowing me down and distracting the planning stage, once I work it out the rest is easier because we have tons of new ideas and my previous landlord tells me he can work out a seasonal lease at any of his properties. Once I know, of course, you will be the first to know.

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