How to Pronounce “R” Like a Native English Speaker

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Non-native English speakers normally struggle with the ‘r’ sound. Some languages do not have this sound and people in different countries are not used to positioning their tongue to produce the sound properly. Experts say it is the hardest consonant in American English to pronounce. A number of people think they are saying ‘r’, but they are really saying ‘w’ or ‘l’, and this makes it very difficult to get one’s message across. Not pronouncing ‘r’ correctly is not a genetic problem but mainly due to the lack of practice, and so it is not impossible to improve your English. There is hope.

Phonology is the study of phonemes or how you say and pronounce letters and words correctly. It is the study of the patterns of sounds in a language or the categorical organization of speech sounds; how sounds are organized in your mind and used to convey meaning. There is science in the way you make intelligible sound, and as a science it requires technique and practice. “R” is a challenging phoneme and this lesson aims to help you say its correct pronunciation.

Related Article: The Basics of English Phonetics Every English Learner Must Know

Generally, Americans say the “r” sound with more of a closed, clenched mouth. Be aware of how your tongue is positioned when you speak.

Try doing this:

  • Raise the back of your tongue so that its sides touch the back of the teeth.

    This will lower the center of the back of your tongue, allowing air to travel through the groove. The sides of your tongue should curl up and touch the sides of the top of your mouth. If that won’t work, or if it’s too difficult to follow, try another trick.

  • Raise the tip of your tongue and curl it back behind your tooth ridge.

    If it won’t work at first, keep practicing, as learning a new sound – as it is when learning a new language – could take time.

You might have heard that practice makes perfect, right? This applies best when learning to saw a new consonant and the best teachers for this are, well, little children. Infants learn a language and the proper phonetics naturally, and they do it by imitation, experimentation, and play. Babies listen to their parents not only with their ears but also their eyes; those cute baby eyes that focus intently on their mom’s lips whenever Mommy is saying something. There are tons of videos and illustrations on the internet that will show you how to produce ‘r’.

See this video, for instance:

There are many more on YouTube. Check them out, follow the illustrations, and mimic the video tutorials. Proper pronunciation is key.

Other than what’s online, you can also engage in conversation with a native speaker of English and observe how they do it. Ask your American friend to say, “Red roses are rare. They are really, really romantic,” or any other sentences with plenty of ‘r’ sounds. Listen, observe, and say it back.

Related Article: 9 Tips to Understand Conversational English when Conversing with Fast Native English Speakers

Babies are so cute when they experiment with sounds. Don’t be shy doing the same because infants prove that it works. Talk to yourself in front of a mirror. Hear and watch yourself say the ‘r’ sound over and over. After a number of tries, move away from the mirror and start talking with people. Again, ask your American friend to help you out and check on you.

Finally, do what infants do best – play. Play around and be casual with your English. Being too serious could stiffen your tongue and make it more difficult for you to achieve your goal. Why not be like children and pretend you are driving a car and imitate the revving sound of a car’s engine?

As you play and practice, keep in mind that the ‘r’ sound may come in front, the middle, or at the end of a word. Try saying a bunch of words with ‘r’ in front, such as “red”, “read”, and “radio”, and then in the middle, “cry”, “try”, “pray”, and then at the end, “car”, “far”, “father”. Now, practice saying complete sentences and say them out loud.

Try these ones:

“Hello, Randy. How are you?

“Run as far as you can.”

“Rachel, you are really nice and charming.”

“Write a letter to your sister using red paper.”

“I’m sorry but father read your report card and he is angry.”

“Carry that rope and tie it around the rotor.”

At first, saying these sentences might feel awkward as you could intentionally give more attention to ‘r’. That’s fine. It is even helpful if you exaggerate it a bit at first. As you use English more and more in your daily conversations, saying American consonants will become more comfortable for you and your words and pronunciation will sound more natural. In some cases, the ‘r’ sound is even left out by native speakers. You can improve and reach that level of proficiency with practice.

 

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I am Edwin Estioko and I have years of experience in writing and editing for international audience. With a bachelor's degree in English and master's degree in Ministry, I am a published author of children's books and an elementary English textbook.