Phonological Processes – English & Spanish Differences

phonological processes

There are 4 things that we need to know about treating and diagnosing phonological processes in children who are bilingual.

  1. Phonological processes are quite possibly more important than articulation (Ohhh! the controversy!!).

  2. The types of phonological processes are almost identical in both Spanish and English.

  3. They are not suppressed at the same ages in English and Spanish.

  4. There is one process that causes us the most problems with diagnostics (wicked, wicked FCD!)

This topic is best absorbed visually so let’s take a look.  We released a beautiful and inexpensive e-book which is extremely helpful if you work with the little guys. Click on the book image to check it out.

Número 1: Phonological Processes are REALLY Important

Phonological processes Check out this data from Broomfield & Dodd, 2004.  A survey of students with low intelligibility showed that only 13% of the students presented with articulation errors.  Added to this is anecdotal information from bilingual SLPs that we tend to spend a lot of time on the phonology side of the house.  This could be related to the CV nature of Spanish or increased word length in Spanish.


Número 2:  Phonological Processes are largely shared

Easy one here.  Most phonological processes are shared across many languagesFor example, notice that Spanish and English have nearly all the same processes.  English does not trill the /r/ so no reason to deviate it.  Vocalization is when /l/ or the English final /r/ is replaced by a neutral vowel.  Spanish doesn’t use the same /r/and does not have the neutral vowels leading into final /l/s that result in vocalization.  Thus, it is not a phonological process seen in Spanish.

phonological processes

Número 3:  Phonological Processes come in at different ages

So we are dealing with the same phonological processes but at what age are they suppressed?  We put Shriberg’s findings (E) next to Goldstein+’s (S) to get a clearer picture.

Phonological Processes – Syllabic Patterns

Suppressed by age:
English (Shriberg) Spanish (Goldstein+) Pattern English




3 3 (uncommon) Initial Consonant Deletion “at” for “cat” “ato” for “gato”
3 3 Final Consonant Deletion “ca” for “cat” “sa” for “sal”
4 3 Weak Syllable Deletion “telphone” for “telephone” “fermo” for “enfermo”
4 3 Medial Consonant Deletion “ta_o” for “taco” “ta_o” for “taco”
4 5 Cluster Reduction “fat” for “flat” “faco” for “flaco”
7 5 Gliding “bwack” for “black” “peyo” for “pelo”

Phonological Processes – Substitution Patterns

Suppressed by age:
English (Shriberg) Spanish (Goldstein+) Pattern English




3 3 Assimilation “tato” for “taco” “tato” for “taco”
3 3 Backing “kat” for “bat” “kate” for “bate”
3 5 Stopping “bat” for “fat” “capé” for “café”
4 3 Fronting “bat” for “kat” “bota” for “boca”
7 5 Liquid Simplification “wake” for “lake” “peyo” for “pelo”
7 NA Vocalization “powah” for “power”
NA 5 Flap/Trill Deviation “datón” for “ratón”

Número 4: Don’t get SNaRLeD up in Final Consonant Deletion

phonological process snarl One of the most common misdiagnoses we see for children coming from Spanish-speaking backgrounds is a diagnosis of speech impairment for final consonant deletion (FCD). Here’s the deal.  English has a ton of final consonants and Spanish does not.  When a Spanish speaker tries to produce a final consonant in English that cannot occur in final position in Spanish, errors are common.  Worse yet, unvoiced final consonants and clusters can’t be heard by a Spanish speaker until they develop an ear for it (Don’t = Don).

Two things to know:

1. Spanish only uses 5 final consonants:  S, N, R, L, & D.  The word snarled is a great way to remember this.

2. When Spanish uses a final consonant it usually carries heavy linguistic weight. It can denote an infinitive verb (/r/ comer/to eat), plurality like English (tacos), or a verb tense (estás, están).  This means that when these sounds are knocked out it can drastically reduce intelligibility for language and speech reasons.

Make sure you are selecting the right goals or you will be spinning your therapeutic wheels.

Research abounds on communication development.  We just need a way to see how it applies to diverse young children and children in the classroom.  Then we can confidently make decisions, respond to teacher concerns, and alleviate parent worries.   Speaking from experience, the diversity that once made my job difficult is now the most exciting part of what I do.    The world is delivered to me each day in the form of languages, songs, culture, and diversity.

We created a graphically illustrated e-book based on the research that we have gathered for our job, references for the books we have written, and materials we have developed for presentations.  If you work with children, check it out!


Developmental Speech and Language Norms for Spanish and English

Additional Resources for Phonological Processes:

ASHA Leader Article: Spanish Phonemic Inventory

Written by: Scott Prath

12 Comments on “Phonological Processes – English & Spanish Differences”

  1. May 18, 2018 at 8:51 am #

    I understand the point about FCD not being a big issue in Spanish as there are only four consonants, but the frequency of occurrence for those four consonants in conversational speech is extremely high. It impacts morphology and prepositional use of words such as “el”, “es”, “del”, “los, “las”, “al”, “en”, “con”, “por”, etc, and significantly impact overall intelligibility. I am of the position that FCD of these four consonants should be addressed if we want to increase a student’s overall speech intelligibility and develop the morphological structures where these consonants are needed.

    • May 29, 2018 at 8:26 am #

      Hi Graciela,
      I completely agree with you that the five consonants allowed in word final position in Spanish have a big impact on intelligibility. They should absolutely be addressed in intervention. Most children have suppressed the use of final consonant deletion by age 3 in both English and Spanish. Now, if we see a child from a Spanish-speaking home who is learning English and exhibits FCD in English only for sounds that cannot occur in final position in Spanish, I would suspect that is due to language influence rather than a disorder.

  2. June 3, 2018 at 12:18 pm #

    It’s of course also extremely important to consider regional/ dialectical variations for Spanish-speaking children. For example, in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, it’s dialectically correct to delete medial “d” (ð or ð̞ in many other dialects), delete the /s/ in /s/ clusters, delete final consonants (particularly /s/ and /d/), and in some cases, delete weak syllables entirely. Some of these variations (particularly weak syllable deletion) might be considered “informal” even within the Caribbean, but are often still the norm in conversational speech. In the Northeastern U.S., Caribbean dialects of Spanish are significantly more common than Central/ South American or European dialects, so this is a particularly salient distinction here. Interestingly, I did find a study from 2005 that did not find significant differences between speech productions of children with phonological disorders who spoke Mexican Spanish vs. Puerto Rican Spanish (Goldstein, 2005); however, as I only have access to the abstract, I’m not sure exactly how errors were classified/ measured across dialects. My hypothesis would be that even if children who present with phonological disorders produce similar errors across dialects, failing to reference the dialect of each individual could lead to erroneous over-identification of phonological disorders in children whose speech is dialectically correct. While I would imagine that FCD as a result of a phonological disorder would still impact intelligibility in Caribbean Spanish, as final consonants are produced in some situations, it’d be interesting to examine whether the impact was as significant as in other dialects. I’d also be interested in whether this would impact best practice in terms of how particular aspects of instruction in morphology and literacy skills are presented based on native dialect.

    • June 4, 2018 at 7:57 am #

      Hi Casey,
      Thank you for your very detailed response and for the links. The main take-away I get from looking at the many dialectical variations in any language is that we don’t want to qualify a child or focus on a goal that is just related to dialect. Sometimes “no significant differences” relates to age of acquisition of the sounds and rate of intelligibility. Intelligibility is always king and trumps sound differences.

      Using FCD as an example, let’s say a child comes up with FCD after taking a standardized test. We would want to identify specific final consonants that are true of his dialect and language and check those. I often see FCD as a goal for Spanish-speakers. When you test the 5 consonants that are allowed in final position in Spanish (SNaRLeD) that are actually not impaired. Good comment!

  3. December 13, 2020 at 4:03 pm #

    The above ASHA Leader link goes to a “Sorry that page cannot be found” error message.

    • December 14, 2020 at 2:16 pm #

      Hi Pamela,
      Thanks for the heads up. Looks like ASHA rearranged a bit. I updated the link in this post.
      Best Regards,

  4. March 31, 2022 at 9:51 am #

    Can you share the article for the phonological processes in Spanish (Goldstein)? I couldn’t find the references list in this article.

    • April 1, 2022 at 2:31 pm #

      Here are two of the citations we use:
      Goldstein, B. A. (2007). Phonological skills in Puerto Rican and Mexican Spanish-speaking children with phonological disorders. Clinical linguistics & phonetics, 21(2), 93-109.
      Goldstein, B. A., & Iglesias, A. (2006). Contextual Probes of Articulation Competence—Spanish. Greenville, SC: Super Duper.

      Also, his book is probably the most comprehensive: Bilingual Language Development and Disorders in Spanish-English Speakers by Dr. Brian A. Goldstein Ph.D. CCC-SLP and D. Oller Ph.D. | Nov 4, 2011

  5. November 4, 2022 at 4:12 pm #

    What is the reasearch on voicing? I’ve had ELL students use the phonological processes of voicing (e.g. d–>t) and devoicing (e.g. k–>g). Please let me know if this is typical of ELL students or if these phonological processes should be eliminated by a certain age. Thanks!

    • November 13, 2022 at 8:22 am #

      Tough one here as stop consonants between Latin and Germanic languages are used very differently, and secondly, there is a dialect related issue here. Using your example, English and Spanish have the same stop consonants. However, Spanish’s stop consonants are really short, almost taps. English stop consonants can be longer. As an example, a Spanish speaker saying DAD might sound like DOT. So is that devoicing or accent??? English’s unvoiced consonants tend to be shorter (caT vs. daD) so it could be our ears versus their sounds. Secondly, some dialects remove consonants which can sound like they are being devoiced or omitted. The Spanish word “verdad” can be pronounced “verdah” and is used to agree like when a teenager says “right?!”

      I don’t know that I would qualify a child or solely write a goal on devoicing. It would be better to ask ourselves how badly it is affecting intelligibility and not worry about it if the child is more than 80% intelligible.

  6. January 26, 2023 at 2:00 pm #

    Curious about accurate diagnosis of phonological delay with FCD in bilinguals. I work in preschool diagnostics and encounter a lot of 3 year old bilinguals. On the Developmental Articulation Norms chart on your website, SNRLD are not expected by age 3. If FCD is typically suppressed by age 3 in Spanish, but none of the word-final sounds SNRLD are expected to be developed by age 3 in Spanish, would we expect them to be producing other age-appropriate phonological processes in order to account for the lack of SNRLD acquisition in the word-final position? What does appropriate development of final consonants in Spanish look like?
    Thank you in advance for any thoughts you have on this!

    • January 31, 2023 at 3:44 pm #

      Hi Alexa, You are right that the old developmental articulation norms DID NOT reflect those sounds by the young ages. But based on the work of Crowe and McLeod (2018, 2020) there are new norms that are at those younger ages. Make sure you download the recent copy from our evaluation resources page – Articulation Norms for Spanish and English. You can get the full story in the 46 page e-book Developmental Speech and Language Norms for Spanish and English.
      Now on to your question(s).
      Yes, for FCD you should only be considering the sounds that exist in Spanish in the final position SNRLD. Yay you!
      Yes, you should only be considering sounds that are mastered at Age 3. A little trouble here. Studies of strictly Spanish (Jimenez 1987, Acevedo 1993) found that those sounds aren’t in at age 3. Crowe and McLeod’s data found that /n/ and /d/ were in by age 3. Hmmm. Their data set included over 18,000 subjects and considering that they are alive, not retired, and still working on this issue, we are going with their results. I am finding it to be accurate in my testing. So, an exact answer would say that you could probe /n/ and /d/ in Spanish for a 3 year old. However, how much is that affecting intelligibility? With the young guys lean into ICD if it is present and correct number of syllables (even if they are not perfect yet). Great thinking and thank you for weighing in.

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