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

The /r/ phoneme is one of the most commonly mis-articulated 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.
  • 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”.

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 7. A general rule of thumb is that if they aren’t pronouncing it correctly by the first grade, seek advice from a licensed speech language pathologist.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonDeerfieldLincolnwoodGlenviewLake BluffDes PlainesHinsdale and Mequon! If you have any questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140!


7 replies
  1. Laurie M.
    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
    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
    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
    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..


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