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Encouraging Speech Development Through Imitation of Animal and Vehicle Sounds

March 2, 2017 | Diane Winner, MS CCC-SLP

In today’s post we’re talking about animal noises… those moos and baas and neigh-neighs that are so sweet from our toddlers… did you know that they also are helping to encourage speech to develop? I often get quizzical looks from parents when I send home notes that say, “Work on ‘moo’ and ‘beep beep’ this week!” Here’s a brief explanation of why sound imitation is SUCH an important skill for speech development, and why you should moo and baa and neigh-neigh all day!

Imitation of sounds is a skill that typically develops between 8 and 14 months of age. For many babies, this will begin with imitating raspberries. Babies love funny sounds, and they love making adults laugh. What’s cuter and funnier than a baby raspberry? With this social exchange, babies are rewarded for imitating their caregiver’s funny sounds, and learn that it’s an awesome thing to do.

As they get better at controlling their mouth and voice, babies will start producing more “speech-like” sounds, like b, p, m, w, t, d, n, h, and a variety of vowels. For most babies, these sounds are easiest to produce in repeated syllables, such as “mama”, “papa”, and “dada”. Have you ever noticed that in most languages throughout the world, the “names” for parents use these early patterns? Now you know why!

Starting to learn “words” is a two-part task for kiddos. First, they need to learn how to produce the sounds. Then, they need to associate the sound pattern with the object that it names. When we work on animal sounds, we take advantage of what’s easy for kiddos (repeated syllables) and pair it with something most kids love – adorable and funny animals!

A good way to start is with a fun and engaging book, such as Brown Bear, Let’s Go to the Zoo, Dear Zoo or Peek-a-Zoo. Young toddlers especially love lift-the-flap books, so these are always a hit! I also have a box of animal windup toys that are great for encouraging animal sound imitation.

Now all you need is your animal noises! Remember, duplicated syllables are easiest, but single sounds or consonant-vowel combinations are good too! Here are some ideas:
Sometimes just an action or silly non-speech sound works too!
Vehicle sounds are awesome too. For these, I really like to pair them with actions.
Here’s a video of me and my daughter exploring some animal sounds and actions together during a book sharing activity. She’s 19 months old in this video:

  • Cow: moo-moo or moo
  • Sheep: baa-baa or baa
  • Dog: ruff-ruff, arf-arf, woof-woof, wuh-wuh, or just a panting sound – ha-ha-ha. My daughter has always said, “Foo-Foo” instead, and I think that’s adorable.
  • Horse: neigh-neigh
  • Monkey: oo-oo or oo-oo-ah-ah
  • Pig: oink-oink or oy-oy
  • Snake: sssssss
  • Bird: tee-tee, twee-twee, or caw-caw
  • Cat: meow or just ow
  • Duck: quack or wah-wah
  • Goat: meh-meh
  • Chicken: bock-bock or bah-bah
  • Owl: hoo-hoo
  • Bee: buzz-buzz
  • Wolf: aroooo!
  • Turkey: gobble gobble or gah-gah
  • Goose: honk-honk or hah-hah
  • Alligator: chomp-chomp or tah-tah
  • Frog: ribbit or ibbi-ibbi
  • Seal: Ar-Ar
  • Fox: What DOES the fox say? Mine says, “Yip Yip!”
  • Fish: pop your lips open and closed like a fish making bubbles
  • Penguin: waddle waddle (one of our family’s favorites!)
  • Rabbit: sniff sniff with your nose or wiggle your nose
  • Frog: hop hop, or make your hand hop hop
  • Camel: I make a spit noise… makes them laugh every time.
  • Giraffe: The giraffe in Dear Zoo is sticking his tongue out, so that’s what I do! Pbblllt!
  • Elephant: voiced raspberry with your arm flaring out as a “trunk”
  • Bear: growl
  • Lion/Tiger: roar
  • Hippo/Rhino: Snort
  • Squirrel: I make the tut-tut noise you make when someone’s being bad.
  • Butterfly: I make a soft whispered too-too noise and flap my hand open and closed
  • Turtle: tuh-tuh is a great approximation to practice!

  • Car/Bus: beep-beep or bee-bee (hand honking horn)
  • Fire Truck: woo-woo (hand opening and closing with siren)
  • Train: choo-choo or too-too (hand pulling down on the train whistle)
  • Truck: boop-boop or boo-boo (hands driving)
  • Airplane: whoosh! (hand taking off like a plane)
  • Helicopter: tuh-kuh-tuh-kuh or tuh-tuh (flat hand shaking like the propellers of a helicopter)
  • Motorcycle: vroom-vroom or voom-voom (hands revving handlebars)
  • Boat: splash-splash or pash-pash (hands forming boat shape going up and down)