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R at Home: Using Phonetic Consistency to Correct the R Sound.

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By Christine Ristuccia, M.S., Speech-Language Pathologist (CCC-SLP)

Does your child say Wabbit for Rabbit or Maw for More? If these and other mispronunications of the R sound occur in your child’s language, then I’m sure you’ve had a few frustrations in trying to correct it.
Did you know that the R sound is one of the most commonly used sounds in English? No wonder that pesky sound (or lack of it) keeps getting messed up in children’s speech. The R sound is typically one of the last sounds to be mastered by children, often not maturing until ages 6 or 7. That’s once of the reasons it has the persistency to remain incorrect in a child’s speech for some time. Since it is mastered later, that also leads to the common misconnception of doing nothing: “Oh, just wait. It will correct itself.” In many cases it will correct but, in almost as many times, correction of the sound needs a little help.
Not pronoucing correct R’s can have a ripple effect if not addressed in a timely manner. Children may become more self-conscious of their speech, spelling may be affected adversly, and they may be open to teasing resulting in a withdrawal from participation in discussion and activities.  Improper speech can be unintelligable in some and can lead to far reaching economic impacts much later in life.

So what’s a parent to do, especially one that home schools?

A complete evaluation by a licensed speech-language pathologist should be the first step. There are a wide range of issues affecting speech: Too many to even name in this article. Often even a little unintelligability in speech is straightforward and easily treatable. However, there are many cases where multiple issues or disorders may be compounding the issue. For the sake of saving time and frustration, a professional evaluation is well worth the investment. Even if you are home schooling, your local school district will mostly likely provide your child with services for speech. If that is not an option, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (www.asha.org) is an excellent source for finding a competent speech-language pathologists in your area.

Treatment of the R sound by a speech-language pathologist on a consistent basis might not be an option for you and your child due to availability, location or cost. Perhaps an option might be to get some hands-on training from a speech-language patholoigst and some homework. A quick look at the basics.

One popular theory for correcting pronunciation (or articulation) disorders is to isolate sounds and work on correcting the sound in isolation. The basic sound (or what is called a phoneme) is selected as a target for treatment. Usually the position of the sound within a word is considered and treated. That is, does the sound appear in the beginning of the word, middle or end of the word (initial, medial, or final). Typical treatment includes drilling through the same sound over and over. Through this method, success is achieved by targeting a sound in a phonetically consistent manner. Phonetic consistency means that a target sound is isolated at the smallest possible level (sound of phoneme) and that the context of production (position in a word) must be consistent.

Everyone knows the vowels, right?: a, e, i, o, u (and sometimes y). Well R can be vowel-like too. That is depending on the location of the R relative to the vowel, the R will change pronunciation. Consider the words: car, fear, for. The R sound comes after the vowels. Each vowel is pronounced differently and so is the R. The R takes on the characteristic of the vowel. If R comes before the vowel is remains consistently consonantal (ribbon, race, ring, run, etc.).

Here’s where it get’s more complex. Since pronunciation of R changes there are muliple variations and word positions to consider. There is initial R, six different vocalic variations [ar, air, ear, ear, or, ire], there are multiple blends combinations [br, dr, cr, etc.], and lastly there’s the tricky [rl] combinations (world, twirl). All together there are at least 32 different R sounds to consider as separate distinct sounds.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Most speech-language pathologist dislike working on R. Many have difficulty in treating it because they were not trained to think of the R sound in so many combinations. They work on initial R, medial R and final R, just like the other consonants. So if you are working with a speech-language pathologist, make sure you ask questions: How do they evaluate and treat the R sound? What’s his or her background? Experience? Success rate?

If you are practicing with your child yourself take the time to identify which sounds are consistently mispronounced. Pick one sound and practice only that sound. Over and over. For example if your child can’t say more, which is [or] in the final word position, then practice words in the same sound and word position, such as door, floor, pour, sure, core, store. Skipping around to different sounds is what leads to confusion, frustration and lack of success. The phonetically consistent practice of the same R sound in the same word position is the critical key to this approach and the ultimate successful production of R.
Reseach and experience demonstrates that success with one sound should favorably influence correction of other sounds as well. With consistent practice of the correct sound over time, success should become apparent. 

Christine Ristuccia is a practicing speech-language pathologist. She is the founder and president of Say It RightÔ (www.sayitright.org) and the author of many books including the award winning R–sound remediation program The Entire World of RÔ.





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