Tips for Parents and Lay-Folks - Teaching "R"

There is no one way to teach the /r/ sound. Here is my way:


  1. I find that learning to pronounce the /r/ at the ends of words is usually the easiest way to begin, as in are, car, where, hair, Pierre, bear, air, and chair ("R in the Car" tracks 2 and 3). To get a good /r/sound, at some point the tongue and lips must both move, but initially, focus on moving the tongue independently from the lips. Most children and adults need this focus.

    The tongue must bunch back or the tip be moved up and back in the mouth. The easiest way to find this position is to place something (usually a tongue depressor or a finger) between the back teeth. The child or adult needs to get the feel of moving the tongue independently from the lips. The lips are a very important part of making the sound but just for a little while they need to be out of the picture so that when you say, "move your tongue," the correct movement results. Sometimes it also helps to smile while producing the sound, or hold the bottom lip down as the tongue is moved independently of the lips.

    I always say the words with a client and hold on to the /r/ until they begin to move their tongue, which usually occurs without extra support. As you are doing this, make sure you hold on to the /r/ and not the surrounding sounds ("carrrrrr" and not "caaaaar").

  2. AS SOON AS I SEE THE TONGUE MOVING INDEPENDENTLY FROM THE LIPS, I LET THEM MOVE THEIR LIPS TO A MORE NATURAL, FORWARD POSITON. This is very important for it is the forward position that creates the correct acoustics for the /r/.

    In order to decide what to teach second, I listen to see which /r/ position in words is the next easiest for the child to pronounce. I usually choose /r/ in the middle of words. /R/ in words like dark, stark, forest, Mary, Harry, Barry and orange (tracks 5 and 6 of the CD), is therefore a sound to practice next. Continue monitoring the tongue to make sure it is moving enough to make a good strong /r/ sound. Keep reminding them to "Move your tongue."

  3. Next, I usually teach /r/ at the beginning of words (rabbit, room, reindeer, and rhino, (tracks 8 and 9 of the CD). It is sometimes easy to find the beginning /r/ off a final /r/ like in yourrrrrrRRRRRRoom or ourrrrrrRRRoom. As you say the sounds along with the child, make sure you hold on to the /r/ long enough for the student to start making the sound, and then complete the word with him or her.

  4. Blends (princess, pretzels, broccoli-bread, greasy greens - tracks 11 and 12 of the CD): I find that teaching blends usually does not take a lot of effort; only a little time. Introduce it to them, sing the songs and see how they do. Sometimes they add an extra vowel between the consonants (guhreen for green). With continued practice they learn the necessary flow for the /gr/ combination. Don't push too hard. Some do really well with the grrrrr. The tongue bunches up nicely in the back of the throat for good production of the /r/ sound.

  5. I focus last on words such as, first, person, third, heard, word (tracks 14 and 15 of the CD). This is where I really concentrate on the lips. By now, students should be able to follow directions such as: "Move your lips forward as if you are kissing a gorilla, but don't forget to move your tongue as well." Also, make sure the jaw is not open too much. I find that getting these words correct takes a little more effort. Lots of practice helps, so sing the songs over and over. Just remind them to tighten their lips and move their tongue, and have them listen to you as you say it with them.
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    Some tips to remember
    before you get started:

    • Be patient. Learning to sing along takes repeated listening.

    • Work at mastering one or two words at a time.

    • Pick your favorites - you don't have to learn it all.

    • Adults should exaggerate the R as they sing along.

    Alida Engel, CCC-SLP, creator of "R in the Car," thinks that learning new speech skills can be fun. Alida has worked both in schools and in private practice. She is a Board recognized specialist in fluency disorders. She met singer-songwriter Jay Mankita through a New England dance community, where they share in the spirit of fun, improvisation, freedom and creativity. This led to their partnership on this CD.

    Jay Mankita was called "one of the half dozen best songwriters today" by Pete Seeger. For over 25 years, Jay has been playing guitar, composing and performing his original songs for both children and adults. Jay is a masterful acoustic guitarist and singer/songwriter, whose styles range from blues, bluegrass, and ballads, through ragtime, swing, and samba, and from old standards to quirky originals. His songs are rooted in the traditions of acoustic folk and Americana music. To find out more about Jay and his other CDs go to

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