Ask Dr. Marla: Why Rs are hard to say

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on February 17, 2015


My five-year-old can't pronounce her Rs. The school says wait until she’s seven, but won't it be too late by then? Should I get help sooner?


Dr. Marla To answer your question, I turned to my speech pathology colleagues. The “R” sound is hard for some children to make. In general, while the range of development of this sound can vary, most children begin to make it at two and a half and should master it by seven. It is one of the later sounds that many children develop and it is not unusual to still have some difficulty at age five. According to some speech language experts, If your child is eight and still unable to correctly form the sound, you should get the help of a children’s speech therapist. That likely is why it has been suggested that you wait until age seven before stepping in.

The R sound, interestingly enough, is one of the sounds that actually occurs more frequently in the English language, yet it is one of the harder sounds to make. According to experts, you cannot really see the tongue when you say the R sound and it is difficult to explain to a child how to make the sound. Try making a “B” sound. It is an easier sound to make and an easier sound to teach. Experts point out that the R sound is also influenced by the other sounds in the word. In the word ‘born’ for example, the R sounds different than in the word ‘over’, where the R is the last letter. An article from Chicago Speech Therapy points out that there are eight different vocalizations of the letter R: /ar/, /air/, /ear/, /ire/, /or/, /er/, /rl/, and the simple R by itself!

Only the letters N and T occur more often than R, and they too are easier to say and teach.

It was also interesting to find that many school boards have different criteria for when a speech language pathologist can treat an“R” sound. If this is the only sound that your child cannot say, some school boards may begin in Grade 1 and others may wait until the child is seven or eight in Grade 2. There is no harm in consulting with a speech language expert to find out the types of exercises and techniques you could use to help your little one develop this sound in the meantime.


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Feb/Mar 2015.

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| February 17, 2015

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