Articulation Therapy vs. Speech Improvement

By Pam Marshalla

Q: There seems to be a shocking lack of knowledge “out there” about how to do articulation therapy. I recently saw a girl with an R distortion who had been in therapy with another therapist for a year with no progress. I was able to get a correct sound from her in 15 minutes! The mother was amazed that I actually worked on tongue movement and placement.

I agree, and I think I know why this is occurring. The tried-and-true methods of traditional articulation therapy are being tossed aside for lack of research. If there is no modern-day “proof” that a method words, it simply is ignored or treated with distain. Thus modern generations of SLPs are not being taught the simple procedures of our founders.

We have gone full circle in our profession, back to articulation therapy the way it was done BEFORE Van Riper. Van Riper explained that the reason he wrote his first text in 1939 was to counter the then common practice of simply having clients repeat words over and over again as a way to correct phonemes. He said––

“All the clinician would do was to ask the client to repeat [words] after her… That would go on for an hour. They felt that such a bombardment would lead to error elimination. Can you imagine that?” (Van Riper, 1993).

Now we have young therapists being taught that that is the way to do articulation therapy. I went to a conference recently where a professor was teaching how to do articulation therapy by working in the classroom. She was advocating instructing all the kids at the same time by leading group activities. She was providing no individual instruction and said it was no longer necessary!

This is old-time speech improvement, not articulation therapy.

I asked this professor about the learning differences and the problems in brain function that the truly speech impaired had. She seemed to have no idea what I was talking about, and she treated me as if I was off on some kooky tangent. I said, “But their brains don’t work the way the average child does. And what about oral movement? How will you train better jaw, lip, and tongue control in large group activities?” She just stared back at me. About half the audience knew what I was talking about, and the other half had no clue.


I am calling on all professors who teach articulation/phonology to get hold of an old Van Riper text and READ IT. I also am calling on them to carry a small caseload of clients themselves to actually discover what it takes to change phoneme production. There is no excuse for a professor of articulation/phonology not to know what articulation therapy really is. You have no business training students to do something you have no clue how to do. Learn it, or get an SLP with a Master’s Degree who knows how to do this to team-teach your class with you.


0 thoughts on “Articulation Therapy vs. Speech Improvement”

  1. Hi Pam,
    As I read this I’m squirming a little, recognizing myself as one of these therapists who wasn’t trained – basically – to do articulation therapy. After I left grad. school I tried the “imitate me” method for a while, until I realized that it wasn’t working for the, as you put it, “truly speech impaired” children. Since then I’ve been on a mission to figure this out – PROMPT, your courses, books, etc. And I’m getting there slowly, but what I’m really missing is watching someone who knows what they’re doing – doing it! My learning needs include watching and doing, so reading books & attending lectures where we talk about it, is not optimal. So, I fully appreciate what you are saying. I also believe that we need to get back to some actual grad. school teaching of a) the difference between a child who is just delayed in speech sound acquisition and a child who has actual motor speech impairments, and b) what to do about the latter. The former group will eventually get it. The latter group really needs us to know what we are doing. Thanks so much for all the work you’re doing, and for keeping actual, effective, articulation therapy alive!

  2. Don’t feel guilty! It is not your fault! It is the result of our profession growing sooooooo much in the past 20 years that artic has gone by the wayside a little.

    Besides… My generation also was not told exactly how to do artic therapy. We also had to fend for ourselves. The difference between then and now is this: My generation of SLP’s was taught that we HAVE to do trial-and-error and figure this stuff out for ourselves. The youngest generations of therapists seem to be taught that they have to do what’s in the research. And there is not much in the research about articulation therapy.

    Continue to engage in trial and error, and you will figure it all out yourself, too!

  3. Which Van Riper book do you recommend? I am a new graduate in my first job. Could you please recommend the best books for articualtion therapy. I seem to be getting a lot of children with /r/ and /s/ articualtion problems!

    1. Well, I hate to be so bold but… I recommend my books for /r/ and /s/.
      “Successful R Therapy” and “Frontal Lisp, Lateral Lisp.”
      I am trying to be very modest when I say that there simply is nothing else out there that will give you the type of info you are seeking.

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