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Why is the R Sound So Difficult To Learn?

Updated: Mar 22, 2021


Does your child say “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “wed” for “red”? According to researcher’s McLeod and Crow (2018), children are expected to master the R sound around age 5.


There are two ways to produce the R sound:


1. Bunched R

· Your tongue tip curls up and backwards


2. Retroflex R

· The back of your tongue pulls back and up, the sides of your tongue are between your back molars, and your tongue tip is either neutral or down.


Some people may use both productions, depending on which sound comes before or after the R! There is a lot of variability involved with the R sound (Smith, 2019), even if you and I both make the ‘bunched R’, we may still not make it the exact same way!


How do I know which way to teach?

Some Speech-Language Pathologists may favour one way over the other, however, it is usually best to figure out which production works best for your child. If you child naturally wants to produce his or her R sound by making a ‘bunched R’, then we will work with your child to prefect the R in a way that works best for them.


How do you make your R sound? Try it! Do you bunch your tongue or produce a retroflex 'R'?


Did you know there are as many as 21 R sounds?

When Speech-Language Pathologists teach the R sound, we teach many variations of R sounds in initial (beginning), medial (middle), and final word positions. There are actually as many as 21 R sounds to learn! Not to mention we need to practice in isolation, syllables, words, phrases, sentences, stories, and conversation (see our blog post re: “Articulation- When should my child say this sound?”).


Here are the variations:


R initial -->“red”


R blends --> “bread”, “cry” etc.


AR initial --> “arm”

AR medial --> “farm”

AR final --> “star”


OR initial --> “orange”

OR medial --> “forest”

OR final --> “more”


IRE initial --> “Ireland”

IRE medial --> “retired”

IRE final --> “empire”


AIR initial --> “airplane”

AIR medial --> “very”

AIR final --> “care”


EAR initial --> “eerie”

EAR medial --> “beard”

EAR final --> “deer”


ER initial --> “earth”

ER medial (stressed) --> “her”

ER medial (unstressed) --> “butterfly”

ER final --> “father”


The R sound can be the most challenging sound to learn! It can take some time and a lot of practice! At Empower Communication Services we look forward to working with your child by finding their best natural R sound!


McLeod, S & Crow, K. (2018). Children’s consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 27, 1546–1571.


Smith, Bridget J., et al. (2019). Sound change and coarticulatory variability involving English /ɹ/. Glossa: A journal of general linguistics 4(1): 63. 1–51. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.650


Written By: Victoria Mannella Gupta


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