/r/ is one of the hardest sounds to make in the English language and can be one of the hardest sounds to teach your young child. Allow up to three years, between the ages of three and six, for him or her to achieve fluency in this sound.
Part of the reason why this is such a hard sound to master is because it is produced differently depending on where it comes in a word and what kinds of sounds follow and proceed it.
But don’t be discouraged. With the proper teaching and practice your child will be able to master every variation of the /r/ sound.
How It’s Elicited
When making the /r/ sound, your tongue will pull back slightly. Flatten it and raise the middle. The tip of the tongue will point downwards, but not touch any part of the inner mouth. The sides of your tongue will touch in the insides of the teeth however.
Bring your lips in once you’re ready to make the vocal sound that will accompany the mouth position, resulting in a proper /r/ sound. Your lips will be pressed tighter when the word starts with the /r/ sound.
Don’t: Flip your tongue to produce a /r/ sound. If you notice that your child’s /r/ sounds sound more like /d/, this is not a proper pronunciation. A proper /r/ sound should be able to be held out—“rrrrr.”
Don’t: Curl the tongue backwards when pronouncing the /r/ sound. While this sound is able to be held out and might sound like the correct pronunciation of /r/, it will have too hollow of a sound. Also, this type of tongue position will make it hard to follow or
proceed with /r/ sound with other sounds, like when pronouncing full words.
How to Practice It
Once your child is stimulable—meaning he or she is able to directly imitate the /r/ sound when you make it—it’s time to push their skill and confidence level. Start by incorporating the /r/ sound into syllables.
Try starting syllables that begin with the /b/ sound (“ree, ra, roo”). When your child is comfortable making these basic syllabic sounds, try moving up to some more advanced drills—ones that end with the /r/ sound, rather than begin with it. “are,” “ir” and “or” are all useful in developing your child’s ability to properly make the /r/ sound.
Next start testing your child’s ability to pronounce entire words that incorporate the /r/ sound—“rat,” “right,” “real.” Try finding a variety of words for your child to practice, not just ones that start with the /b/ sound—“hear,” “recorder,” “eraser.”
Sentences including the /r/ should be the next step in achieving fluency with the /r/ sound: “Real rats are right as rain.”
It’s important thing to remember during practice that repetition and the correct articulation are most important in mastering this sound. If you notice your child stumbling over the /b/ sounds once he begins incorporating it into words and sentences, make sure you step in and have him repeat the word correct before moving on to the next one. It’s okay to encourage your child to go slow at first when saying words or sentences.
If you are concerned with your child’s speech or language development, please contact Chicago Speech Therapy by clicking on the “Contact Karen” button on the upper right section of this page. Your online inquiry should be responded to within 30 minutes.
Karen George is a Chicago speech-language pathologist. Karen is a founding member and the current leader of Chicago Speech Therapists Connect, a group of Chicago-area speech-language pathologists. As of Jan 2012, the Chicago Speech Therapists group contained over 400 members. The private pediatric speech therapy practice Karen founded, Chicago Speech Therapy, LLC, provides in-home pediatric speech therapy in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Karen and her team of Chicago speech therapists have a reputation for ultra-effective speech therapy and work with a variety of speech disorders. Karen is the author of several books such as A Parent’s Guide to Speech and Language Milestones, A Parent’s Guide to Articulation, A Parent’s Guide to Speech Delay, A Parent’s Guide to Stuttering Therapy, and A Parent’s Guide to Pediatric Feeding Therapy. She is often asked to speak and has addressed audiences at Children’s Memorial and Northwestern University. Karen is highly referred by many Chicago-area Pediatricians and elite schools.