Thursday, October 22, 2009

The "r" issue

Milo is now 5 and a half and his pronunciation in Italian is flawless, except for the "r." From the very beginning, he has had a hard time rolling it properly. He adopted different strategies in different phases: when he begun speaking, he would skip it (saying fommaggio instad of 'formaggio,' for instance). Then, for a brief period, he would pronounce it the French way; but that did not last long. He has now developed a way of pronouncing it softly, without rolling it. He'd say: "Ghiazie, mamma!" instead of grazie.
In technical linguistic terms, this is called the approximant labiodental i.e. a consonant represented by the symbol [ʋ] in the international phonetic alphabet (IPA). The phenomenon is apparently widespread among monolingual Italian kids, and is usually left unaddressed until the kid reaches the age of 7-8. After that, a few sessions with a logopedist (i.e. speech therapist) can rectify the situation, if needed.

This summer my dad tried stubbornly to train the kids:

Grandpa: "Prova a ripetere....quattro!" (try to repeat: four)
Milo: "Quattio!"
Grandpa: "RRRRoma!"
Milo: "IIIIoma!"
Grandpa: "Carote! Carrrrote!
Milo: "Caiote!"
Zeno: "A me non mi piacciono le caiote!" (Me I don't like carrots)
Grandpa: "Si dice: A me non piacciono" (you should say: 'I don't like carrots')
Zeno: "Si, ma a me non mi piacciono le caiote!" (yes but I still don't like them)
Grandpa: "Concentratevi bene, ragazzi: crosta! Crrrrosta!" (concentrate! Crust!)
Milo: "Chiosta!"
Zeno: "Cos'e la chiosta?" (what is crust?)

...and so on. Milo became rather self-counscious and frustrated, eventually we summoned my dad to leave him alone but, despite my several efforts to reassure him, he remains aware.

Last night Milo asked me to spell for him the word inverno (winter), as he wanted to writer it over a drawing he had made.

Then I heard him say: "IN-VE-NNO! Eh gia', non riesco a dirla tanto bene la"r"...pero' la so scrivere benissimo, vero mamma?" (I can't pronounce the "r" very well, but I can write it just fine, right mum?!)


Tati said...

My 5 year old has the same problem getting the spanish r down. I actually asked this question to another site. Here is the answer if it helps you at all...

Also, I'm glad I found your blog! Thanks for sharing!


Clo said...

Thank you kindly Tati for the link, and welcome to MYK! lovely to discuver your blog too!

xahuistle said...

My 5 yr old daughter has the same problem pronouncing the Spanish r, she's solved the problem saying it the French way! But every time she goest to Mexico everybody says "oh it's too cute" so she's quite self-conscious about it. I love your kid's conclusion!

Great blog!


Marco said...

the R sound is probably the most difficult to pronounce, think for example to eastern people who swap R with L...
Grande Milo! anzi Ghiande Milo! I'm actually curious to discover if the R issue will solve itself in the time or if it will remain as it is, in any case as somebody i know would say "non è grave"!

Martina said...

my brother had the same "problem" and my parents used the cioccolatini fiat to make him try to put the tongue under the upper teeth...he definitely got a lot of ciocholates (and said the R when he was ready)

Clo said...

Luisa, Milo did the same for a little while. In fact he has no trouble whatsoever with the French "r" - however it is not quite the same as the Italian, and he realises it. what is amaziong is that several italo/French kids we know here in Paris they develop exaclty this French accent. I still haven't been abloe to determin the reason why as they have more or less the same exposure of Italian and French as my kids. Zeno, (MTK #2)is develpoing yet another version: he sounds like an American when he says " quattro", he's day something like: 'quattcio.' I am not worried as they are perfectly understandable and Milo recognizes the letter 2R2 as associated to the proper sound. But it is fascinating to observe!

Biavo Macco, continua a leggeie il mio blog! Mi fa davveio piaceie!

Martina, thanks for the suggestion! I am afraid the pediatrician today would shoot me, though! Perhaps bio-cioccolatini, though...!!!

Adriana said...

My son used to have a problem with the Spanish "r." He would use the "l" sound. He has not outgrown it but he still can not trill his "rr"'s.

Anonymous said...

I'm neither married, nor have kids but I love your blog :) It's so interesting and insightful. And I think that what you're doing with your kids is fantastic .. I'd love to be able to do the same someday when I have my own family .. but I first have to improve my French to be able to pass 3 languages onto my kids ;) Still can't say the 'r' - being a native Spanish speaker, I tend to roll it.

giovanna said...

Small update on Aislin's talking: she's almost 2 and she now preferes french. Thanks to the massive creche exposure she now speaks French as any other child of her age. She says some sentences and many many words in italian, some in dutch, very few in english.And yes, the "r" is clearly not an italian one. It's a french "r". eheheh... it was nice to see you in Paris, I'll keep you up to date with Aislin's developments.

giovanna said...

ovviamente, incredibile come i bambini riescano ad ammalarsi con cotanta precisione. Appena siamo un po' liberi (stiamo combattendo contro tutte le leggi di Murphy al momento)ti chiamo per incontrarci di nuovo!
Un bacione!