Chinese /r/ and /l/ Problems

By Pam Marshalla

Q: I have an adult Chinese student with /r/ and /l/ problems. She produces these phonemes with additional sounds I cannot describe in words. Can you give me any tips in correcting them?

I think your best method for correcting this would be to have her say the sounds enough times that you will be able to imitate them exactly.  Then model for her what she is doing and help her hear what she is doing wrong.  And then help her figure out how not to do it correctly.  This is ear training at its finest.  Figure out what she is doing with your own mouth first, then teach her to change hers.

I usually tell older clients that this is exactly what I am doing. I say, “I need to figure out exactly what you are doing.  I am going to have you say it several times, and I am going to try to say it just like you.  That way I can figure out what you are doing wrong.”  Then I have the client say their sound as many times as necessary for me to get it a clear auditory image of it.  I may be able to imitate on the spot.  But I often figure out how to do what they are doing by practicing at home while soaking in long hot baths.

Alexander Graham Bell was perhaps the first to advocate this method —

“The first step in the correction of a defect is to understand the mechanism of the defective sound… How are you to investigate it?  Imitate the defective sound yourself, and then study your own vocal organs” (Bell, 1906, p. 85).


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