Tips, Tricks and a Handy Tool for Teaching the R Sound

Tips, Tricks and a Handy Tool for Teaching the R Sound

Teaching the R Sound can be very challenging. Learning new ways to make teaching this sound easier fascinates me. I’d like to Thank Gordy Rogers from Articulate Technologies for taking the time to share with us his tricks for teaching this sound and for their (Articulate Technologies) creative solution in developing a useful tool to help teach the correct placement of the tongue for the R sound.

Gordy Rogers, M.S. CCC-SLP - Mommy Speech Therapy

Many of you, both parents and speech-language pathologists (SLPs), have experience with a child who has really struggled with his or her /r/ sound. Researchers and clinicians in the field of speech-language pathology have long known that this is the trickiest sound to correct. In fact, one leading researcher and scientific advisor to Speech Buddies, Dennis Ruscello of West Virginia University, found that 91% of SLPs experienced at least one case in which traditional methods of therapy did not work for a child struggling to produce /r/ correctly.

In this blog post, I’m going to outline what makes /r/ so tricky to treat and provide some suggestions for teaching correct /r/ that you can try with your child right away.

There are actually three distinct actions or behaviors that need to be performed correctly for a child (or anyone for that matter) to produce /r/ correctly. These behaviors involve three distinct oral regions: the lips, the tongue and the pharynx, or throat. Basically, these parts of the oral anatomy must constrict, or close up slightly, so that the sound produced by the vocal cords is shaped in such a way that /r/ is produced. I am going to describe what this oral anatomy needs to do, then describe tricks or techniques that can aid in making this happen for your child.

Let’s start with the lips. I want you to say “rabbit” right now and, while you do so, concentrate on what your lips are doing when you say the /r/ in “rabbit”. They’re probably making the shape of an “O”. This rounded lip shape is the first key component of a correct /r/. Second, the tongue must create a hump in the middle of the mouth. Think of the sound coming from the vocal cords having to go over a small mountain made by the tongue. If there’s no mountain, there’s no correct /r/ sound. Finally, there’s the pharynx or upper part of the throat right behind the tongue. For /r/, the pharynx must be slightly constricted, or tightened, in order for the /r/ to sound correct.

Now let’s discuss some tricks or techniques for achieving correct lip, tongue and upper throat shapes for /r/. For the lips, I tell my clients to make a “fish face” or to simply stick their lips out and make an “O” with them. One very powerful aid here is a visual cue, by which you’d simply have the child look at your face while you make a correct /r/, and have the child imitate what your lips are doing. With regard to the upper throat, I often have my clients gargle with water to help them learn to tighten these muscles. The action of keeping the water in the throat while producing, for example, the “ah” sound, closely models what the upper throat needs to do in order to correctly say /r/. Give it a try!

Now, with the tongue, I’m not going to lie: this is, without a doubt, the trickiest part of the process and in the vast majority of cases, it’s the tongue that is the primary source of the child’s /r/ difficulty. Because the tongue movement necessary to create this hump or mountain I mentioned above can be difficult to achieve, and because this is all happening behind the visual barrier of the front teeth, I recommend a tactile cue. At Articulate Technologies we’ve created a tool called the, “R Speech Buddy” which provides a very specific tactile cue. This tool allows the child to feel exactly what he needs to do with his tongue in order to produce a correct /r/ sound. Many kids are strong tactile learners, especially in elementary school. The R Speech Buddy unlocks a sense of feeling to help them learn the correct tongue movement, as the clinical data we’ve gathered has shown, up to four times faster! The way it works is actually surprisingly simple. It involves two simple steps, placement and movement.

In the placement phase, the child simply navigates to two sets of bumps. These bumps, placed right behind the upper front teeth, cue the correct starting position for /r/. Once the tongue is in place, the movement phase can begin. Here, the child simply unrolls the coil with his tongue. When the lips and throat are correctly configured, and the child fully unrolls the coil while attempting to say /r/, he will say a correct /r/; if the coil is not fully unrolled, the /r/ will not be correct – it’s as simple and reliable as that!

Below is a video on how the R Speech Buddy works:

You can also read additional information about the R Speech Buddy on the Speech Buddy Website.

I know /r/ can be a particularly frustrating sound to teach. If you continue to find that your child struggles with his or her /r/ sound, I recommend you retain the services of a licensed, certified SLP in your local area. Click the link below to see a list of preferred providers, who have experience in treating the /r/ sound, and would be invaluable resources to you and your family through this process:

Best of luck!

Ruscello, D. M. (1995). Visual feedback in treatment of residual phonological disorders. Journal of Communication Disorders, 28, 279–302

Gordy Rogers, M.S. CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and co-founder of Articulate Technologies, Inc.


  1. Hi,

    So glad I stumbled across your page as it is exactly what I have been looking for. My son will be 4 next week and I have a couple of questions about his speech. He knocked his two front teeth back up into his gums at age 18 months and again at age 3. He has since had one of them fall out. He has always loved to talk and has a good vocabulary but struggles to pronounce, ‘s’ and ‘z’. Is it possible for him to do it correctly without his tooth? His tongue appears to be sitting correctly but it sounds very muffled. On your Articulation screener he appears to be age appropriate. He can articulate most sounds but conversationally his voice is rushed and very deep and muffled and people find him hard to understand. Do you have any idea what could be going on?


  2. Carmela Jacobitti

    Thank you I like this site. Been in the field for 40 + years. Always learning new things!

  3. Niloofer Binth Nizar -SLP

    Such an amazing website. Grasped a ton of knowledge. Good work!

  4. Hi Miranda,
    Without the front teeth present, it is still possible for your son to achieve correct tongue placement for /s/ and /z/, though the sounds may still be perceived as a little distorted due to the front teeth not being there to manipulate the airflow. You said in your comment that your son can articulate most sounds but that the breakdown in intelligibility is happening at the conversation level, right? The conversation level is usually the last level of speech to generalize when children are gaining new speech sounds. It is understandable that he might not be 100% all of the time in conversation as he’s still generalizing some of the age-appropriate speech sounds into his speech. Encourage good clear speaking by modeling a good “normal” rate of speech (how fast you talk) and nice clear articulation of sounds in speech. By modeling this behavior in your own speech, he may indirectly correct his own speech. Praise him verbally when he does use nice, clear speech by saying things like: “I liked the way you said that”, or “your speech sounded nice and clear when you said that–I could understand every word you said!”. Once you’ve established with him what clear speech sounds like, then you can slowly start to suggest he use it when he says something more rushed and muffled i.e. “I didn’t quite catch what you said just then, could you try saying it again with your good, clear speech?” This will help him change understand that it’s more desirable to use good clear speech when communicating so he can be understood by those he’s communicating with. Good luck and keep up the good work with your son!