Speech Sounds

The Importance of Helping Children Learn the /R/ Sound

As a speech-language pathologist, I know how important it is for children to be able to express their thoughts and speak clearly and confidently. 

It’s true that all kids are unique and develop at different rates. But as they learn to speak, children typically follow a specific progression of sound development. After all, some sounds are easier for children to make–and some are much harder and develop later in life. 

Some of the earliest sounds in English that emerge are /b/ /p/ /m/ /n/ and /d/. Some trickier sounds, like the /r/ sound, develop later in life. As children get older, they should be consistently increasing the number and types of sounds they can accurately say. For example, while a young toddler might be limited to words starting with /b/ and /p/, by 5 years old, most children can correctly say the /r/ sound. 

We call a child’s ability to make specific sounds articulation

Age-appropriate articulation is important for a few reasons. 

1. First, it helps children communicate their thoughts clearly with others, and it ensures that others can understand them.

2. Second, practicing articulation skills early on will make it less likely that speech problems emerge as they get older. 

3. And last, clear articulation is critical for safety. If a child is ever in an emergency situation, it’s especially important that they’re able to communicate clearly.

One of the most common sounds that kids struggle with is the pesky /r/ sound. Some children have a tough time with all their /r/ sounds. Others only have difficulty when the /r/ is placed in a certain position within the word, such as the beginning or end.

You’ve probably spent some time listening to how your child pronounces /r/. Does it sound more like a /w/? For example, the word “rice” may be pronounced as “wice.” Or you may hear a word like “berry” pronounced as “be-wy.”

For words that end with an /r/ sound, you may hear a distorted attempt at /r/. The word “father” may sound like “fath-uh,” or the word “chair” may be pronounced as “chay-uh.” Not only is /r/ one of the hardest sounds for kids to learn, it’s also one of the hardest sounds to teach! Some /r/ errors that are developmental, or based on your child's age, will go away on their own. But others will not, and they need to be treated by a speech-language pathologist. 

So let’s take a minute to recap a few of the key points we discussed:

  • As children get older, they should be consistently increasing the number and types of sounds they say. 

  • This is called articulation.

  • Age-appropriate articulation helps children communicate clearly with others. And if kids practice their articulation skills early on, they’re less likely to have speech problems when they get older. 

  • The /r/ sound is a later-developing sound in English, and it’s one of the most common sounds that kids struggle with.

There are many reasons /r/ can be such a tough sound to master. However, the more you understand what makes /r/ so difficult, and where your child may be struggling, the easier it is to make an informed decision about your child's care. In many cases, this involves receiving professional support from a speech-language pathologist. Speech therapists use a range of techniques to teach the /r/ sound, and they’ll create a personalized treatment plan tailored for your child’s needs.

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