Why is “r” so hard to say?

The “r” sound can be a difficult sound for children to produce since it is not a visible phoneme unlike many other speech sounds such as “f” or “b”. These speech sounds are visible and easy for children to reproduce when given an example (i.e. bite your lip to say “f”). Another reason it is so difficult is because the “r” sound also changes based on the vowels surrounding it. In fact, there are a total of 21 different types of “r” productions, such as, “fire”, “horn”, “hair”, and “rabbit.” Children may be able to produce the sound in some contexts but not others.

Why is “r” so important?

The “r” sound is a high frequency sound in the English language, meaning that it occurs more often than other sounds. Therefore, if a person has difficulty saying “r” then there will be a lot of words that will sound “different” than normal and could impact the child’s intelligibility or how much of their speech you can understand.

At what age should my child produce “r” correctly?

This will vary among children and between boys and girls. It is normal for young children to produce “w” for “r” such as “wabbit” for “rabbit” until approximately 3 years 6 months of age. Children begin to produce “r” correctly between the age of three and eight years old. At the age of eight, “r” should be produced accurately; however, it is beneficial to begin speech therapy before that age if the child is distorting the “r” sound. It is important to note that these children who only have difficultly producing “r” may not always qualify in the school setting due to the specific criteria that school speech pathologist need to follow. The errors need to have an impact in general education classroom in order to qualify for speech services. This can include reduced intelligibility, social/emotional implications, or reading and writing impacts.

How do I teach my child how to say “r”?

The best option will be to seek out a speech language pathologist (SLP) in order to increase accurate production of “r”. The SLP will determine if the child can produce “r” in any of the 21 vocalic r’s as well as what tongue position the child is using. The “r” sound can be produced with a retroflexed tongue position (tongue tip is curled up but not touching the roof of the mouth) or retracted tongue position (the tongue is retracted back in the mouth). The retracted tongue position is more common and typically targeted first but if the child is unable to grasp the concept of retracting his/her tongue the SLP can teach the retroflexed position. The Speech Buddies Rabbit is a great tool to teacher the retroflexed tongue position for the “r” sound. The Speech Buddy is placed in the child’s mouth and the child uses his/her tongue to unravel the rubber coil so that the tongue is all the way back in their mouth. The tool allows the child to experience the feeling of retracting their tongue and should help them to produce the “r” sound. The SLP can then work from “r” in isolation all the way up to sentences.