Why is R so tough?

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We’ve all heard Elmer Fudd say he’s going “wabbit hunting,” but do you ever wonder why so many children have a difficult time pronouncing the “r” sound?

Image result for elmer fudd wabbit hunting

In order to create a speech sound, we push air out of our lungs, up through our throat and out our mouth or nose. The vibration of our vocal cords and movement of our articulators (e.g. tongue, teeth, lips, and jaw) change the airflow to produce different sounds. The “R” sound is hard for some children because it requires a unique tongue position that is difficult to teach. It also is tricky because other sounds in the word may influence the way the “R” sounds.

Look in the mirror and try saying these words slowly: Rain, Storm, Thunder

Did you notice how the “R” looks and feels different? In storm and thunder, the “R” sound is different because of the vowels next to it. There are six different vocalic combinations, [ar, air, ear, er, or, ire] which are collectively called vocalic R, r-controlled vowels, or vowel R. If “R” comes before the vowel, it remains a consonant. All together there are at least 32 different “R” sounds to consider as separate sounds!

The “R” sound is one of the lasts sounds to be mastered by children, many children can say a correct “R” sound by 5 ½ years old, but some don’t produce it until age 7. In general, if your child isn’t producing “R” by first grade, you should consult with a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). An SLP can assess which of the 32 different “R” sounds your child consistently mispronounces to create therapy goals.  

Tips:

You can help your child to hear the “R” sound by playing a game. Start by saying a word with “R” correctly or incorrectly (e.g. rabbit vs. wabbit). Ask your child if they can identify the word with the strong “R” sound.

If your child says “R” incorrectly, don’t speak negatively about it or make them repeat it correctly, instead model the correct pronunciation. For example, if your child says, “look it’s a wabbit,” you can say, “Yes that is a rabbit!” while emphasizing a correct “R” sound.

References

Bedsole, K. F., & Johnson, C. M. (2006). Why is “R” So Hard to Say? Answers to Questions Parents Ask About the “R” Sound. Retrieved from https://www.superduperinc.com/handouts/pdf/102 RforParents.pdf

Hanks, H., & Hanks, H. (n.d.). Correcting the R Sound: A Primer for Parents. Retrieved from http://mommyspeechtherapy.com/?p=1116

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