Bunched R vs. Retroflex R: Which one should I teach?

Bunched R vs. Retroflex R: Which one should I teach?

Bunched R vs. Retroflex R
Which one should I teach?

The /r/ sound has a reputation among SLPs for being hard to teach. One reason for this is it can be produced with two different tongue positions: bunched or retroflex. Even within these two tongue shapes, there can be variations from person to person. The /r/ sound is dynamic!

So how do you know which tongue position to focus on in therapy? My general advice is to try both and go with what seems more comfortable to the student.

Start by teaching anatomy and explaining that there are two main tongue shapes for producing the R sound. You can show themthis video that explains it. Provide visuals, and use play-doh to mold tongues into each shape to make sure they understand the difference. 

Then, have them attempt production with both bunched and retroflex positions. If they can produce a closer approximation with a particular tongue shape, focus on that during your sessions

What if they aren’t able to produce an approximation with either tongue shape?

Try shaping from an existing sounds. Try having them slide their tongue from /l/ to retroflex /r/. Also try having them pull their tongue back from /sh/ to bunched /r/. If they have some success with either of those, you can select target words that facilitate correct production. For example, words like color, fuller, smaller, or sailor facilitate the L → R slide for retroflex. Words like shrink, shred, or shrimp facilitate elevation of back lateral tongue margins for bunched R. 

When in doubt, I typically go with bunched R. It seems to be more common, and anecdotally I find it easier to carryover to conversational speech. I am in a Facebook group of SLPs dedicated to the R sound, and a poll in that group revealed that 73% of respondents (105 out of 144 total responses) exclusively produce bunched R at the date of this writing. So if a student isn’t having much success with either position early on in therapy, I tend to focus on bunched. 

Whether you love the /r/ sound or hate it, I’m sure you’ll appreciate these bunched and retroflex posters. They not only clearly show the step-by-step process of how to say the R sound, they are a cheerful way to decorate your therapy room! 

If you need a workbook packed full of R sound instructions and activities, I know you’ll love this book titled I Can Say the R Sound


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