Oh, the dreaded /r/ sound. When I first started as a speech therapist, I didn’t know where to begin with this sound. Now 4 years later, I have a lot more elicitation techniques within my arsenal: the KARLA method, the single-word /r/ screener, and of course many methods discussed in Pam Marshalla’s Successful R Therapy book . However, getting that first /r/ is not the hardest part of the job. Many students already have /r/ in some words. The challenge is getting that /r/ in other vocalic and consonantal positions! With some experimentation and a great deal of help from Pam Marshalla’s online course , I now have some quick tips for that challenging /r/ sound and transferring its correct production into other words and positions.
Drill the correct /r/ words.
Rewrite that motor memory so the student practices how it feels and sounds when they are doing it the right way. Do it slower, do it faster, do it 50 more times. Also have the students listen to themselves saying this sound with a toobaloo so they can hear it clearly. Often times once the student can hear and feel what a correct /r/ sounds like, they get much better at producing /r/ in other contexts or at least discerning when they are making correct, partially correct, or incorrect productions during practice.
Work on students’ best vocalic and consonantal positions.
If the student can only do “er” medial words, then do all the “er” medial words first. You can try and stretch the student to see if they can do “er” in the initial or final position after that; some can and some can’t. The same advice applies to other positions (initial r, tr-clusters, dr-clusters, vocalic r “ear”, etc.)
Break up the word.
Can’t get that /r/ into words with an ending consonant or in multisyllabic words? Break up the word. Ar-tt (art), ar-mm (arm), ar-cade, ar-tist. Eventually you can have the student try to put the two parts together without that big pause, but in the beginning this helps them perfect that /r/ in longer words.
Use the “KARLA”-inspired whisper technique.
One of the tips for the KARLA technique from Speaking of Speech is to start whispering the “la” part, mouthing it, and then getting rid of it altogether to just get “kar”. Oftentimes, my students need some help getting rid of that “la” so I tell them to “almost say the l” or “to get ready for the l”. The toobaloo also helps them hear when they have hit the right sound, and I have them do it very slowly. This approach (whisper, mouth, then “get mouth ready for the next sound”) also works well for students who are not yet able to produce final /r/ words. For example, if they have “earring” but not “ear”, I tell them to whisper the “ring” part, then mouth it, and then just have them think about doing the “ring” or get their mouth ready to do the beginning of “ring”. Hopefully with some practice, we get a final /r/ in that vocalic position of “ear”. This technique can also be used to elicit final /r/ in other vocalic positions.
Control the phonetic environment of /r/ sentences.
This is a great idea from Pam Marshalla: have the student produce their correct /r/ word or words in sentences. You will need to make sure the sentences or sentences only include target words they can do! If they can only say “car”, for instance, the sentence might be “I have a yellow car.” You can even do a whole paragraph this way talking just about the “car” or including other perfected target words. This will assist the student with generalization and carryover right from the start.
Use “er” to teach other vocalic /r/ positions
If your student has the “er” vocalic position, you can use it to teach them all the other vocalics. That is because “er” is technically in every other vocalic position. You can use this visual to show that “ay+er= air” or “oh+er=or”. Sometimes the student might need an explicit reminder that there is a transition sound like /j/ or the “y” sound; for instance, “ear” really sounds like “ee+yer” if you slow it down. This cue can also help students produce a normal-sounding vocalic.
Don’t think your student has “er” yet? Don’t worry; you can work with whatever vocalic /r/ position they do have to get to it. I had a lot of students who got “ar”, either from the “KARLA” method or just as their natural correct /r/. I would show them this picture+text visual” or this free text-only visual of vocalics like “ah+er=ar” and see if they could slow down their production to hear the “er” part of it. We would attempt to break up the component sounds until we got the “er” on its own and then use that for the other vocalic /r/ positions. Another helpful tip is showing the visual and the modeling how to change the lip and mouth position to get the other vocalics. I would tell the student to “keep the tongue where it is” and just have them slowly close their mouth more for the “er” sound. While this didn’t work perfectly, it did often help students transition to the vocalic “er”.
Use these co-articulation and other strategies for expanding the student’s /r/-word repertoire in good health!