In a nutshell
The letter ‘r’ is the fifth most commonly used consonant in English and forms part of many consonant blends – for example the ‘br’ sound in ‘bring’ and the ‘fr’ sound in ‘free’. The exact pronunciation of ‘r’ differs across the range of different dialects and accents of English.
You may notice that when your child first starts attempting the ‘r’ sound that they make a ‘w’ sound instead. This is very common – according to Speech Pathology Australia the ‘r’, ‘th’ and ‘v’ sounds are the hardest for young children to make. This page from their site contains a number of fact sheets, including ones detailing the ages that children typically learn sounds.
If you would like to check if your child’s progress is normal, or to seek assistance, here are links to some professional speech pathology associations:
If you wish to give your child some practice reading words with consonant blends involving ‘r’ we have created some worksheets for the more common ones:
The ‘br’ sound as in ‘brick’
The ‘dr’ sound as in ‘drink’
The ‘fr’ sound as in ‘frog’
The ‘gr’ sound as in ‘green’
The ‘pr’ sound as in ‘present’
The ‘tr’ sound as in ‘train’
The pronunciation of ‘r’ is one of the main points of difference between American and British English. In general, the ‘r’ sound is always pronounced in American and Canadian and much of Irish English (although there are some exceptions, such as the Boston accent). This manner of pronunciation is known as ‘rhotic’ – where in a word such as ‘car’, the final ‘r’ is pronounced.
However, in most varieties of British, Australian, South African and New Zealand English, the ‘r’ sound is usually not pronounced at all, unless it comes before a vowel sound. (Again, there are exceptions – for example, some parts of England such as the West Country tend to be rhotic). So when someone from Australia says ‘car’, to an American it sounds a bit like ‘cah’ and when they say ‘cheers’ an American might think they are saying ‘cheese’.
If you are interested in this topic, you may enjoy this clip which examines the Boston accent and how it differs from standard American English:
And in this clip, Amy Walker does 21 different accents in under three minutes. Note the different pronunciation of the ‘r’ at the end of ‘Walker’ across the range of accents:
Letter r songs
This simple song is a good introduction to reading ‘r’. (It is sung with a non-rhotic ‘r’ pronunciation):
This song, sung with rhotic pronunciation, shows children how to write and pronounce the letter r.
Note that it is fine for you to show your child both songs – they will just sing them in their natural accent anyway, be it rhotic or non-rhotic.
This is an old classic which looks simple, but is deceptively difficult. Try saying it five times very quickly:
Red lorry, yellow lorry
‘I Spy’ words
‘I spy with my little eye, something beginning with…’ is a great game to play to reinforce the sound that a letter makes and it can be a fun game to kill some time – for example on a long car trip.
Here is a selection of short words starting with ‘r’ for you to use:
robot, rabbit, rainbow, red, ruler, rope, rain, reindeer, rooster, ribbon, rat, rod, rug, raft, rail, rake, ramp, rash, rice, ring, ruby, rink, road, robe, rock, roof, room, root, rose.
The Letter R Worksheets
This letter r worksheet gives your child lots of opportunities to practice writing capital R.
This letter r worksheet focuses on the lower case letter r.
This letter r worksheet gives your child an introduction to the sound that ‘r’ makes, and also allows them to practice writing the capital and lower case letter r.
This worksheet provides a further opportunity for your child to become familiar with the letter r sound.