My oldest child is 7 years old and in the first grade. She has had no problems in speaking Hebrew with Hebrew speakers and English with English speakers. Yet she has a problem saying the /r/ sound in English, which does not happen in Hebrew. She uses a /w/ for the /r/ and will say “wed” for “red”, , “Bawbie” for “Barbie” and “twy” for “try”.
We thought she would outgrow it, but she seems to be holding on to it, and does not imitate the /r/ sound correctly when we try to get her to say the /r/ by itself. Also other children in her class were making fun of her, and she wants to sound better.
So finally we went to a speech therapist.
It is a difficult sound to make, the therapist said, as you can’t see it; it is made in the back of the throat. Children have a tendency to make a /w/ sound, while in actuality the lips hardly move.
The /r/ sound is a particularly tricky letter to teach because the way your mouth produces the sound changes depending on the other letters it is combined with. In fact, there are 8 different vocalizations of the letter /r/: /ar/, /air/, /ear/, /ire/, /or/, /er/, /rl/, and the simple /r/ by itself. Furthermore, the sound of each vocalization is affected by its placement at the beginning, middle or end of a word.
Generally, the sound is made by bringing the tongue up and to the back of the mouth. While the bulk of the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth between the hard palate and the soft palate, the tip of the tongue hovers just below the hard palate. The sound is voiced, which means that the sound that /r/ produces comes from the vibration of the child’s vocal cords.
Our daughter had to practice for a short while, to find “that spot” where her tongue was in the right place and she made the sound correctly. But once she got it, she wanted to make it in words and now she is on to sentence practice.
So we have lessons and the therapist speaks to her on the phone and once we even Skyped when we missed a lesson! She gives us homework for practice at dinner time, on the phone, and when in the car having conversations. We, as a family, have become more relaxed about our daughter’s speech! The therapist feels she will be finished soon with the weekly visits, and then we can go to a monthly meeting and gradually stop, as she has learned what to do.