Background on the “L-to-R Slide” Method

By Pam Marshalla

Q: I am a college student and am doing a group report.  We would like to discuss your “L-to-R Slide” technique.  In order to do that we need an article that discusses it.  Can you guide me to one?

Before I answer your question, let me pose a philosophical question to you and to my broader reading audience: Why are individual articles that summarize one single study always considered superior to the writings of master clinicians who write practical manuals about techniques they have developed through hundreds of hours of clinical experience?

Now here’s my real answer:

The terms “L-to-R Slide,” “Z-to-R Slide,” and “N-to-R Slide” are phrases I coined to name some old-fashioned phonetic placement methods that have been around for a long time with no known original author.  I learned how to slide from L-to-R from a supervising therapist some 35 years ago, and I learned the other methods from reading old-time textbooks.  I have met literally hundreds of SLP’s who use something akin to what I call the “L-to-R Slide” as I have traveled across the US and Canada teaching continuing education programs on articulation and motor speech disorders.

Published Examples

Here are some samples of how these slides have been described in published books. I have put them in chronological order for easy historical reference.  The descriptions get better with each passing decade:

  • Kofler, L. (1887) Art of Breathing: As the Basis of Tone-Production for Singers, Elocutionists, Educators, Lawyers, Preachers, and All Others Desirous of Having Good Health. Unspecified City: USA.  This old-time book on elocution teaches /r/ from /d/.  He begins by having the client say nonsense words like “bay-day.” Then he says, “The more strength needed for r… the further back must the tongue-tip be turned” (p. 244).
  • Nemoy, E. M., & Davis, S. F. (1937) The Correction of Defective Consonant Sounds. Magnolia, MA: Expression. This is perhaps the best phonetics placement text ever written, and the oldest reference I have been able to find for the L-to-R Slide: “In developing final /r/ from /l/, the pupil should be directed to repeat in rapid succession the syllable ler, ler, ler, with a backward movement of the tongue” (p. 144).
  • Van Riper, C. (1947) Speech Correction: Principles and Methods. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Van Riper used a tongue depressor and described it like this: “Ask the child to say /l/. Then with the depressor, gently push the tip of the tongue back until you can insert the depressor between the tip and teeth-ridge or until /r/ sound results” (p. 192).
  • Van Riper, C. & Irwin, J. (1958) Voice and Articulation. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. These authors discuss the method briefly within an example of a therapy session. The description of the method is incomplete, and written in dialogue format, but worth looking at (p. 146).
  • Bosley, E. C. (1981) Techniques for Articulatory Disorders. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas. This is an excellent text in which the author describes how to slide into /r/ from /l/ or /n/––  “Ask the client to produce an isolated /n/ or /l/ and then to sweep the spread, elevated tongue backward across the palate, as though trying to sweep the whole palate clean” (p. 85).
  • Hanson, M. L. (1983) Articulation. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders. This is an overlooked yet excellent text filled with dozens of phonetic placement techniques for all the consonants. The author describes sliding from Z-to-R––  “Have the client prolong a /z/.  As he does so, he draws the tip of the tongue very slightly back, without discontinuing the /z/, but moving toward an /r/” (p. 217).
  • Marshalla, P. (2004) Successful R Therapy. Mill Creek: Marshalla Speech and Language.  This is the main place where I have summarized the method as I do it––  “Ask the client to elevate the tip of his tongue to the alveolar ridge and say ‘L.’  Ask him to hold the tip of his tongue high and prolong this sound while his mouth is open wideノ Ask the client to prolong this sound while he slides his tongue tip back along the palate at midline, from the alveolar ridge to the velum.  If tongue position and tension are good enough throughout, the sound of R should result somewhere along the mid-palatal line. Usually the sound becomes good as the tip approaches the palatal notch and deteriorates as it moves further back” (p. 108).
  • Bauman-Waengler, J. (2004) Articulatory and Phonological Impairment: A Clinical Focus. Boston: Pearson. This is one modern textbook that is keeping a number of the old methods alive–– “The client is instructed to elevate the front of the tongue so that the tongue tip is pointing behind the alveolar ridge ノ First instruct the client to glide the tongue, which is touching the alveolar ridge, forward and backward, ‘sweeping’ the palatal area. Next, instruct the client to execute, with a slightly open mouth posture, the same action but this time without touching the palatal area” (p. 247-248).

Phonetic Placement Methods

Phonetic placement methods such as these were born of clinical necessity and passed along from one therapist to another via word of mouth. They are methods that have survived the test of time; in fact, Van Riper said that these methods have been around for centuries.  I have been studying old material to discover the origins of these types of methods.  I have read books, lectures, and letters going back to 1759.  I have found that certain methods appear time and again through the history of elocution and articulation therapy.  What I have named the “L-to-R Slide” is one of them.

A significant number of these old-time methods are what many of us now call “oral-motor techniques” because they are methods to train the jaw, lips, and tongue to move correctly for phoneme production.  In today’s world, these methods have come under severe criticism, mainly because of the call for evidence, but also because the new term has been adopted.  The continual cry: “Where’s your proof!”

The very odd thing is that many professionals recently have said something like, “Don’t do oral motor techniques! Just do Van Riper articulation therapy!”  The problem is, they are the very same thing.  Oral-motor techniques are phonetic placement techniques, and phonetic placement techniques are oral-motor techniques.  Those who do not believe this need to do some more reading and studying.  But don’t look for articles: Read books on articulation therapy.

To me the proof is in the longevity of a method.  Any method that has been around for hundreds of years, that has been experimented with by thousands of therapists, that Van Riper himself advocated, is proof enough that a method is worthwhile.  But hundreds of old-time methods are now considered suspect because there is no modern-day research on them. The L-to-R Slide is a perfect example of that.


This being said, however, I would love it if someone would finally start testing out all the old-fashioned phonetic placement methods under modern laboratory conditions.  In that way we can get proof that what works, works. [Was the irony in that sentence too subtle?]

Seriously, for some real research, check out what is going on at Articulate Technologies at Their new product, the “R-Buddy,” is designed to teach the tongue-tip to retroflex back.  I love these people.  Their mission is to place practical clinical methods into a framework of modern day research.  They are engaged in clinical trials, and they are presenting papers and writing articles. And perhaps best of all, Dr. Dennis Ruscello is on their advisory board.

0 thoughts on “Background on the “L-to-R Slide” Method”

  1. Have you tried using the Speech Buddies? There is confusion if the same tool can be used for multiple clients, even when cleaned properly. What is your opinion?

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