Difficulties with the R in Spanish: How to Correct Rhotacism

24 October, 2020
Don't miss these exercises to correct rhotacism and help your children learn to better pronounce the "R" in Spanish.

Many of the sounds we produce are visual, which is very helpful for school-age children. One of the reasons why it’s so hard to teach the /r/ phoneme and correct rhotacism is because children can’t see what their tongue looks like or where it is in the mouth. Also, the way the tongue is placed in the mouth for accurate /r/ production varies from person to person.

When we talk about rhotacism, we’re talking about problems that have to do with the acquisition of the phoneme /r/ in Spanish. This phoneme is one of the most poorly articulated sounds and can be one of the most difficult to correct. Discover how to improve the pronunciation of the R in the Spanish language below.

How the “R” sound is formed

Before looking at the exercises to correct rhotacism, it’s important to understand, first, the formation of this phoneme. This way, it’ll be easier to help children correct it with various specific exercises.

Difficulties with the R in Spanish: How to Correct Rhotacism

To understand how to form the /r/ phoneme in Spanish, the front of the tongue may be “retroflexed.” In other words, the tip of the tongue points slightly up and back behind the teeth.

The tongue may be “clustered,” meaning that half of the tongue is clustered in the middle area of the mouth. The sides of the tongue should press against the back teeth or molars, for both “clustered” and “retroflexed” tongue positions.

The phoneme /r/ is even more complicated because pronunciation depends on where the sound falls in a word. The /r/ can be prevocalic (comes before a vowel), inter-vowel (between two vowels) or post-vowel (after a vowel).

Exercises for correcting rhotacism in children

Before starting the exercises it’s necessary to remember that the phoneme /r/ is alveolar. This means that we pronounce it by placing the tongue in the alveoli, the area just above the teeth. And, in addition, it requires the vibration of the tongue, especially in the case of the rolling R for words like perro or rubio.

Work on the breath and breathing

To get the sound, you should vibrate your tongue and breathe at the same time. So, the first thing you should do is to work on the breathing part with simple blowing exercises. For example, blowing out candles, inflating balloons, blowing small paper balls to make them move, blowing pinwheels, and so on.

Lingual praxias to correct rhotacism

Then, another exercise is to work on the lingual praxias. This involves working on the tongue so that it has better tone and control. This is necessary to improve the strength of the tongue and to keep it in the same place in the mouth long enough to produce the sound.

To do this, in front of a mirror, you can do exercises such as brushing your teeth and squeezing the brush with your tongue. You can also try placing your tongue up and down on the outside of your mouth, placing it on the sides of your mouth (both inside and outside), twisting it around your teeth and around your lips, first in one direction and then in the other.

Many times children lack strength or are unable to keep the tongue in one place long enough. Therefore, the tongue “escapes” and they can’t make the sound correctly.

Clicking the tongue to correct the rotation

Another important exercise for correcting rhotacism is to learn how to click your tongue. To do this, you must have the strength to rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth and hold it. If your child doesn’t get it at first, don’t worry, they’ll improve with time.

Difficulties with the R in Spanish: How to Correct Rhotacism

Repetition of words

At this point, you can introduce new exercises, such as repeating words from lesser to greater difficulty. Don’t demand too much from the little one, and also don’t expect their pronunciation to be perfect right away. Remember that the improvement of rhotacism is progressive.

Observe how children pronounce in order to correct rhotacism little by little. You’ll need to get them to apply the necessary guidelines to achieve good pronunciation of the /r/, and this can be done through oral repetition, with reading of words, etc.

Rhotacism with adults

In the case of rhotacism in adults, the way to work on the acquisition of this phoneme is practically the same. Although, in this case, the material must be adapted to their level, knowledge and abilities.

When working with adults, in the beginning, you may observe that they achieve repetition quite quickly. However, you’ll need to check their pronunciation when it comes to spontaneous language.

If pronunciation continues to be a challenge in spontaneous language, it must be gradually corrected so that they can unlearn the bad phoneme patterns and gradually begin to introduce new patterns until they can pronounce the Spanish /r/ correctly.