Q. Should I worry about a mispronounced “R”?
Q. My daughter’s teacher has suggested that she should see a speech therapist to correct the way she pronounces the letter “R”. Should I worry about a mispronounced “R”?
A. To answer this question, I would need to ask several more.
Does it bother her?
The first question to consider is if the inability to say the sound is bothersome for your daughter. If it doesn’t seem to be an issue for her and she is generally intelligible then it might cause more heartache trying to remedy something that the child doesn’t see as a problem. Additionally, if she doesn’t see the point of correcting the sound, she is unlikely to be motivated to make the necessary therapeutic investment in the practice and work it takes.
Another aspect to contemplate is if she has an “R” in her name? This can be quite problematic and frustrating if she’s unable to pronounce her own name correctly. Another reason for seeking the help of a speech therapist is in cases where the inability to pronounce a specific sound results in the child being teased or causing issues with learning to read and/or write.
How does the problem “R” present itself?
Other questions to ask would be if she is capable of saying or repeating the sound in isolation, in other words can she say the sound alone or pretend to be a pirate? For instance, can she muster a good solid “Arrrrr”?
We must also examine if she is able to hear a distinguishable difference between the “R” and the “W” sounds? For example, would she be able to differentiate between the words “weight” and “rate” or “Ron” and “won“. If the answer is no, then this could be a good place to start. You cannot produce a sound that you are unable to perceive.
Do you notice that the sound is particularly troublesome in a specific word or letter combination such as when combined as a blend like “br” or “thr“. For example, she can say “great” but not “brush“. Does she change it to another sound as in “awive” or “alive” (arrive) or is it simply omitted, “at” instead of “rat”. Is the “R” the only sound that is missing or problematic?
Does the mispronounced “R” arise at a specific position in the word? For instance, is it always problematic at the beginning of words (initial position) such as in “rabbit” or “run” or do you hear the difficulty in the middle (median position) like “myriad” or “horse“. Perhaps, she does not pronounce the “R” at the end of words (final position) like “dinner“. In that case this could be a good use of modeling. The technique is simply for you to repeat the word correctly after she’s produced it incorrectly. Modeling is a gentle way of correcting without drawing too much attention to the issue. Immediately after hearing the incorrect pronunciation the correct one is modeled by repeating the sentence. She says, “I’m late I have to “wun” to school”. You say, “Yes, you have to run. Run to school.”
Examine as well if your child is able to produce the sound in certain letter combinations such as the “re” in “reach” but not in other combinations. In this case, one technique would be to find other words that start similarly read, reef, refer, redo etc. and use these words to practice the reproduction of the “R” in a circumstance that is attainable.
Not all “Rs” are created equally.
Another factor to recognize is that the letter “R” is pronounced differently depending on regional accents. For example, if you are a family from a region where the vocalic “R” is often omitted (as in car, star, pear, fear) and living where the vocalic “R” is pronounced. Teachers or others may perceive that your child has a specific speech disorder based on the local pronunciation. Unless the child is particularly bothered by the difference or it has an impact on their ability to read or write I wouldn’t see the need to correct what based on their accent isn’t incorrect.
As well as accents, we need to keep in mind if a child lives in a bilingual or multilingual home. What is/are the main language(s) spoken at home? Is the letter “R” pronounced the same or even present in the other languages spoken in the home? Can I as a parent correctly model the sound for my child?
Finally, one of the most important considerations is if the child is intelligible, in other words, is she understood in most situations? Ask if the inability to pronounce the sound hinders communication. If not, I wouldn’t worry. Certainly, it is still possible with speech to modify the “R” but if the child is understood and functional I wouldn’t be particularly alarmed.
However, if you are concerned it is always best to consult with a speech therapist for guidance. In many cases, within a session or two a speech therapist can provide you with enough ideas to remediate the difficult sound and with continued practice at home the sound can quickly be mastered. At the same time, a speech therapist will be able to discern if the inability to produce this specific sound is a sign of a larger speech disorder or if it’s linked to an anatomical issue.