Tackling Trouble With R: Exercises to Practice “R” Pronunciation With Your Child

Confused Boy With Giant Letter RThe /r/ phoneme is one of the most common misarticulated sounds, and it can be one of the most challenging sounds to correct. Many of the sounds we produce are visual, which is very helpful for school-age children.

One of the reasons /r/ is so hard to teach is because the child is unable to see what their tongue looks like or where it is inside the mouth. In addition, the way in which the tongue is positioned in the mouth for an accurate production of /r/ varies from person to person.

How the “R” sound is formed

The front part of the tongue may be “retroflexed”, which means that the tongue tip is pointing slightly up and back, behind the teeth, or the tongue may be “bunched”, which means that the middle of the tongue is bunched in the middle area of the mouth. The sides of the tongue must press against the back teeth or molars for both the “bunched” and “retroflexed” tongue positions.

The /r/ phoneme is even more complicated because the pronunciation depends on where the sound falls in a word. The /r/ can be prevocalic (comes before a vowel, “rabbit”), intervocalic (between two vowels, “cherry”) or postvocalic (after a vowel, “butter”). The prevocalic /r/ is the only case where /r/ is considered a consonant. The other /r/ sounds are known as “r-colored vowels”.

There are a variety of techniques and tips for establishing the /r/ sound:

Elicitation techniques for /r/

Using hand gestures – Hold one hand horizontally to symbolize the tongue, and hold the other hand underneath. Using the hand on top, show the tongue movement necessary to produce /r/. By cupping the hand, you’re showing the tongue tip is up and slightly back.

Shaping /r/ from /l/ – Tell your child to make an /l/ sound. From there, they should slide their tongue along the top of their mouth (hard palate), and this will inevitably turn into the retroflexed tongue position.

Shaping /r/ from /oo/ – Have the child say “oo” as in the word “look.” While saying the “oo” sound, tell the child to move his tongue back and up slowly – Using your hand to show this movement can be helpful!

Shaping /r/ from /z/ – Have the child prolong the “z” sound. Then tell the child to move his/her tongue back slowly while opening the jaw slightly. Remind the child to keep the back sides of the tongue up against the upper teeth.

Using animal sounds (Always model these sounds for the child first.)

  • Rooster crowing in the morning, “rrr rrr rrr rrrrrrrrrr”
  • Cat purring, “purrrrrr”
  • Tiger growl, “grrrrrrr”

Using a silent /k/ – Have the child open their mouth and make a silent /k/. Then have him attempt the growling sound.

Changing jaw position with /l/ – Have the child produce the /l/ sound, and while saying this sound, pull the lower jaw down slowly until he reaches the correct position for /r/ –  An adult can pull the jaw down gently if the child is having a difficult time lowering it down slowly

Eliminating the /w/ – If the child is using a /w/ sound for /r/- Tell the child to smile – you can’t make a /w/ sound when you smile!

Other ways to help

  • Be a good model – Restate what your child said and say the /r/ correctly.
  • Work on discrimination – Say an /r/ word correctly or incorrectly and see if your child can recognize the difference between a “good” /r/ sound and a “could be better” /r/ sound.
  • Talk to a certified Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)

When to consult a Speech Language Pathologist

The age range for mastery of the /r/ sound is quite large. Many children master the sound by age five and a half, while others don’t produce it correctly until age seven. A general rule of thumb is that if they aren’t pronouncing it correctly by the first grade, seek advice from a licensed Speech and Language Pathologist.

Tanya Lotzof

Tanya Lotzof received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan in 2008 and a Master’s degree in Speech and Language Pathology from Northwestern University in 2010. During her academic program, working in the clinic at Northwestern University, she gained experience with children of all ages. Her externships included time at Jefferson School in Niles, IL where she worked with preschool and pre-kindergarten children as well as time at Loyola Hospital in Maywood, IL where she worked with infants/babies, children and teenagers. Her primary areas of interest include expressive/receptive language delays, articulation and phonological speech disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders and apraxia. Tanya has always had a passion for working with children. She continues to strive to make a positive difference in children’s lives. A team approach, that incorporates family members and other related professionals into the treatment of the child, is a model of therapy that Tanya strongly believes in.

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9 replies
  1. Laurie M. says:

    I had no idea the R was different depending on where it appears in the word. Excellent article, Tanya. I am sharing this with my Facebook friends.

  2. Roslotz says:

    Tanya, you always blow me away how dedicated and “articulate” you are! I am so proud of you. You make the world a better place with your hard work, dedication and commitment. Awesome blog! Hugs, Mom and the Boys.

  3. Joshua Overton says:

    My daughter was born premature with a tied tongue. The doctors said that they did not want to clip her tongue but let her try to develop her speech with the tied tongue. She is 6 years old now and I have worked with her to produce the /l/ sound properly (she was producing a /w/ sound) but /r/ has been a huge challenge that we have not yet overcome. So glad that I found this article. We will definitely be implementing some of the things that you talked about so that we can get her speech to where it needs to be. Thanks so much.

    • North Shore Pediatric Therapy
      North Shore Pediatric Therapy says:

      It can certainly be frustrating to learn the /r/ sound.
      There is a reason it is one of the last sounds that kids acquire – it’s a
      tough sound! If you still have trouble and you’re feeling frustrated,
      it’s time to get some professional help from a speech-language
      pathologist. If you’re in a public school, you are eligible for free
      services through your school with an Individualized Education Plan
      (IEP). Speak with your parents and your teacher about getting that
      started. If you’re in a private school, you may still be eligible for
      services. Ask your teacher what services are provided and if a speech
      pathologist is on staff. If not, have your parents determine what your
      insurance will cover and find a speech pathologist in your area. Good
      luck and keep your chin up! We know it’s tough but you’re doing all the
      right things!

  4. independent_forever says:

    Thanks for the “W and smile tip” at the end…that one alone could make the difference for my son. I never realized you can’t say W when you smile…funny. Yes, my son is almost there…seems like the words with the R at the beginning are the trickiest for him while words like POUR, DOOR, FAIR, AIR, sound OK. Will give these a try…thanks..

  5. Dela Guzman says:

    My daughter just turned 8 and she still can’t say the R is that normal? Should I be worried or seek help for her or will she just outgrow it.

    • Julie Paskar says:

      The phoneme /r/ is typically mastered by the age of 8. There is a wide range of development with this sound from three to eight years of age. Most children have mastered the /r/ sound by 7 years of age (90% of all children). If your daughter is not currently producing an accurate /r/ it would be recommended that you seek out the services of a speech-language pathologist for a comprehensive articulation assessment as well ongoing services if so determined. At her age, she likely needs speech-language therapy services to remediate the production, this is not something she will “grow out of.”


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