Why can’t my child pronounce the letters L and R?

Q. My daughter does not correctly pronounce her “L” and “R” sounds when she speaks. Many times words like “love” sound like “wove,” and words like “Raleigh” sound like “Waweigh.” She is four-and-a-half years old and I’m concerned she may have a speech disorder. Is it normal for children this age to mispronounce L and R letter sounds? Should I have her evaluated? What can I do at home to help her with this?

A. We often receive inquiries from parents who have children around the same age as your daughter with the same concerns. They are worried about how their child produces /r/ and /l/ sounds. Rest assured, your daughter’s mispronunciation and speech sound errors with /r/ and /l/ are quite normal given her age.

As a speech-language pathologist, it is part of my job to know when speech sound errors are developmental and non-developmental. When a speech sound error is developmentally based, it means the error is appropriate given the child’s age. A non-developmental speech sound error occurs if the child should be able to correctly produce the specific sound based on his age. These types of non-developmental speech sound errors would require intervention.

Speech-language pathologists use a speech sound development chart to determine if a speech sound error is developmental in nature. The chart demonstrates normal ranges for when children of certain ages should acquire and produce specific sounds correctly. The /l/ sound is typically acquired and produced correctly after 5 years of age, while the /r/ sound comes after 6 years of age. Considering that your daughter is four-and-a-half years old, these speech sound errors are still considered to be developmental and do not require further attention.

While waiting for your daughter to continue to develop /r/ and /l/ sounds, there are some ways that you can encourage good speech sound production at home. Parents play a key role in in the development of their child’s speech skills. Try implementing some of these strategies on a daily basis to support your daughter’s speech development.

Anticipate Errors
It is completely normal for children as old as 7 or 8 to make errors with their speech sound production. Errors are certain to happen, so be patient as your daughter is still learning how to correctly produce sounds.

Model Good Speech
Most children pick up on speech sounds by listening to speech models like their parents and teachers. Make sure you are correctly producing speech sounds when you speak with your daughter. If she mispronounces a word, repeat the word correctly back to her. For example, if she says, “I wove you, mommy!,” you should reply with, “I love you, too!,” making sure to correctly model the /l/ sound. Do not repeat the word in error incorrectly back to her—it isn’t helpful to say, “It’s not wove, the word is love.” You only want her to hear the correct way to say the mispronounced word.

Lots of Reading
Reading aloud to your daughter is important for modeling speech sound production. You can overemphasize certain sounds she may have trouble producing. This will help her hear the sound produced correctly in a conversational tone.

Ask Your Child to Repeat
It is important for your daughter to know you are listening to her. If you do not understand something she says, ask her to repeat it. If you still cannot understand her, ask her to show you what she is talking about. Many times, speech sound production will become clearer with repetition.

I know it can be worrisome to hear your child consistently mispronouncing words, but do keep in mind that her speech is still developing and will evolve as she matures. Keep being a good speech partner and model at home. If your concerns remain a year or so down the road, be sure to talk with her pediatrician. You will play a key role in helping her correctly learn and produce speech sounds.

Allison Crumpler is a speech-language pathologist and the director of clinical compliance for Raleigh Therapy Services, Inc., a multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice in North Raleigh. (919-791-3582)

Image credit: Sunny studio/Shutterstock.com

1 Reply to "Why can't my child pronounce the letters L and R?"

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    Beth V January 19, 2016 (4:13 am)

    This is so helpful! Thank you!

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