Errors of /r/ production are some of the most common speech errors on a speech therapists’ caseload! It is a very challenging sound for many children to produce. And quite honestly, it can be one of the harder sounds to teach a child, as well. If you have ever tried to help your child with their /r/ sounds at home, you probably already know this!
What makes the /r/ sound so difficult is that it is not a sound that is easily visualized. When saying a “th” sound, or the /b/ sound, you can easily see how to produce the sound based on movement of the lips, tongue, and teeth. Try it yourself!
However, the /r/ sound is all about tongue position inside the mouth. It’s very hard to visualize and can be challenging to explain.
In this post we will cover some activities you can implement at home to tackle the pesky /r/ sound. My goal for you is that by the end of this post you and your child will feel much more confident producing /r/!
This is a crucial topic in speech-language development that affects many children. Which means there's a lot to cover! If you haven't done so already, make sure to read our first article on /r/ production for even more information!
Get Familiar with the Articulators
In order to teach /r/ production, it's important for your child to be able to understand all the different parts of the mouth and tongue they will be using to produce this sound.
Get in front of a mirror and spend some time reviewing the tongue. You can even review different portions of the tongue, such as the tip of the tongue, the back sides of the tongue, and the back of the body of the tongue. Also spend some time reviewing the insides of the top-back molars. All of this will come into play when you get into the specifics of pronouncing the /r/ sound, so its essential to start here!
Have your child point to different parts of the tongue, and areas within the mouth, to make sure they comprehend these important parts of their anatomy.
Two Ways to Produce Prevocalic /R/
In order to produce /r/, there are two tongue positions that could be used for productions. These are the bunched and retroflexed tongue positions.
Please note: there are only two ways to produce the /r/ sound. However, there are many different variations of /r/ sounds. There are prevocalic, medial, and vocalic /r/ sounds, which have to do with where the /r/ is placed in a word (beginning, middle, or end). There are also variations in which vowels the /r/ is paired with, like AR, ER, IRE, etc.
Since there are so many variations, this post will specifically cover pronunciation of prevocalic /r/. This means the /r/ comes in the initial position of the word, such as “run” or “right.”
For the bunched production, the tongue moves in a high position and towards the back of the mouth. The sides of the back of the tongue should be touching the insides of the back molars. The tongue should also be kept strong and tense in order to ensure the appropriate “errr” sound is formed.
One thing you can have your child do is pair the sound production with a hand motion. Allow your child to hold their hand flat like a tongue, then “bunch” or “scoot” their hand back high and strong to resemble what the tongue should be doing in the mouth. Try this and see if it helps your child better move their tongue to the correct position.
For the retroflexed /r/, the back sides of the tongue will touch inside of the back molars, just like for the bunched /r/. However, the tip of the tongue will curl backwards. This is what gives this production the name “retroflexed.”
There are a couple things you can do to see if your child will benefit from this production. You can use a hand gesture for this one as well, having your child curl their hand backwards into the same position their tongue should move.
You can also try this tip. Have your child move their tongue tip up behind their front teeth, just like they were going to say the /l/ sound. But instead of saying /l/, have your child “scrape” the roof of their mouth and curl their tongue backwards. The production should sound like “llllleeerrrrr.” Once you hear the “errr” sound, you know that the tongue is in the right position. Once they have this down, then see if they can simply move their tongue into the position without having to say the /l/ first.
How To Choose A Bunched or Retroflexed /R/
Practice teaching your child how to produce both /r/ sounds. When deciding which one to choose, pick the one that most closely represents the actual /r/ sound. If they both sound good, then pick whichever one comes easiest or feels most natural to your child. Ask them to get their input, as well!
The Importance of Tongue Tension
If the /r/ sound still doesn’t sound quite right, it may be a good idea to focus on tongue tension. The tongue is a muscle, and if the tongue is not tight or strong enough, the /r/ will not sound like a true /r/. This is an area many children need some extra focus or help.
Model for your child the difference between a loose and floppy tongue, or a strong and tense tongue. Keep your tongue relaxed and in a neutral position in your mouth. Open your mouth so that your child can see this. Demonstrate how you are not using your strong muscles in this case.
Again, keeping your mouth open enough so that they can see, move your tongue to the bunched or retroflexed position. Point out how your tongue uses more tense in certain positions because you're using your muscles.
Then, let your child try! See if they can feel the difference between a “loose” tongue and a “tense” tongue. Feeling the difference between the two may be key in helping them get the right tension and sound production.
Progression of /R/ Practice
Typically, when helping children with a speech sound, your speech therapist will increase the complexity levels of the given sound just slightly. This is the usual progression of prevocalic /r/ contexts:
Feel free to follow these links above for some additional information and practice. Expressable Academy is our online bank of free lessons available for families. These lessons will be super helpful to get your child producing /r/ at home. There are even some fun activities, as well!
Additionally, be sure to check out the lessons on medial /r/ production as well as vocalic /r/ production. Just navigate over to the left hand side of the column and select the area you would like to focus on with your child.