Sloppy Sh with Puffy Cheeks

By Pam Marshalla

Q: My student is unable to produce the Sh sound and it sounds very slushy.  When he tries to say the sound, I noticed that he puffs up his cheeks with air. How can I get him to not do this and make that air flow come out the front?

Here is what Nemoy and Davis (1937) would have done––

  1. Have him make a Long E–– “Eeeeeeeee.” Make it be a strong, exaggerated, very smiley, and prolonged E. Super-exaggerate it. This is a VERY BIG E.  [Modern-day palatography has since confirmed that the tongue’s position for E is virtually the same as the tongue position for Sh, so this is where we start (McLeod and Singh, 2009).]
  2. Now have him pant gently in and out through that E position. Make sure he does not change his tongue position. He should be panting his super-exaggerated E. [In other words, make a voiceless E.]
  3. Now have him continue to pant through the BIG E position and round his lips into an Oooo position (Ooo as in “too”).  In other words, have him keep his tongue in E position while he puts his lips in Oooo position.  He should be panting through Sh at this point. However, tell him, “Do NOT try to say Sh. Just pant through the E.” [This is an important cue because as long as he thinks he is trying to say Sh he will revert to his old habit, his motor memory for Sh. Tell him NOT to say Sh but to follow your instructions.]
  4. Now, if the strong E position, and the strong Ooo position do not get rid of the loose cheeks, have him use his hands to hold his cheeks against his teeth. Tell him, “You are puffing out your cheeks. You can’t puff out your cheeks. Keep them pressed firmly against your teeth.”  His hands will help him do this, but this should activate the cheek muscles that need to take over the work. Have him listen to the better sound he can produce with his cheeks pressed in, tell him, “That’s the correct one.” Teach him to discriminate between the “puffy-cheek Sh” and the “tight cheek Sh.” [Van Riper said we should give each phoneme and its error production a “personality.”]
  5. Also, if the E doesn’t immediately sound like Sh when the lips round, have him repeat the process while biting down on a coffee stirrer at the molars. This will bring the jaw up higher and into a better position. [We call this “jaw stability.”]

What I have described is a combination of two methods that Van Riper (1939) named:

The Association Method

The process of using one phoneme to teach another.

The Phonetic Placement Method

The process of using every available devise to get the jaw, lips, and tongue into position. This second method is what many today call an Oral-Motor Technique––a technique to facilitate improved jaw, lip, and tongue function (Marshalla, 1992).

Hope that helps.


  • Marshalla, P. (2000, 1995, 1992). Oral-motor techniques in articulation and phonological therapy. Mill Creek: Marshalla Speech and Language.
  • McLeod, S. & Singh, S. (2009). Speech sounds: A pictoral guide to typical and atypical speech. San Diego: Plural.
  • Nemoy, E. M., & Davis, S. F. (1937). The correction of defective consonant sounds. Magnolia, MA: Expression.
  • Van Riper, C. (1978, 1972, 1964, 1963, 1958, 1954, 1953, 1950, 1949, 1947, 1942, 1939). Speech correction: Principles and methods. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

3 thoughts on “Sloppy Sh with Puffy Cheeks”

    1. If “Sh” is produced with puffy cheeks it may or may not sound distorted. If there is no acoustic distortion, then we just call it “sh.” If it is distorted, we call it a distortion.

    2. I believe that this articulation is written [ɬ] in IPA
      the “alveolar lateral fricative.” it’s a sound that is phonemic in many languages, but specifically as a distortion it’s written [ʪ]

Leave a comment!

Keep the conversation going! Your email address will not be published.