How to pronounce the American R sound

The r sound is one of the most difficult sounds to pronounce for non-native speakers of English. You can probably remember from the movies or own interaction how different a French, German or Russian R sounds from an American R. Follow my step by step guide to get your perfect R.

Your ultimate guide to the perfect English R sound

The English R is pronounced very differently than R in many other languages. The secret is, your tongue shouldn’t touch your palate.

01 | How to pronounce R in English
02 | Secret tricks of pronouncing the R sound
03 | Watchouts for speakers of other languages
04 | American English R vs. British English R
05 | Practice words with “r”
06 | Spelling of the sound “r”

How to pronounce R in English

The most important thing when producing the R sound is the position of your tongue. Check out the steps and visuals below to learn how to position your tongue.

R is perhaps the only sound in English which can be produced with two different methods and yet both should give you the same sound. You can try both and use the one that gives you better results. Native speakers use both methods.

The pull back method:

  • Step 1: Pull your tongue back. The back of your tongue will raise and become fatter.
  • Step 2: Makes sure the front of your tongue doesn’t touch anything in your mouth
  • Step 3: Make the voiced R sound, push the air out from deep inside your throat

The set sail method:

  • Step 1: Curl back your tongue so that its front part looks like a sail catching the wind
  • Step 2: Makes sure the tip of your tongue doesn’t touch your palate
  • Step 3: Make the voiced R sound, push the air out from deep inside your throat

Secret tricks of pronouncing the “r” sound

  • Position of your tongue so that the front of your tongue does not touch your palate
  • Test your position and see if you’re able to produce a very long continuous R sound. You should be able to hold out the sound. If you feel that you’re forced to stop (roll) or the sound isn’t continuous and your tongue is going up and down quickly (trill) you are producing an R sound from a language other than English.
  • You can use any lips position in both the pull back and the set sail method but don’t open the jaw too much
  • Experiment with both methods. Both are legitimate ways of producing the correct R sound and used by the native speakers. Some native speakers use both methods depending on a word.

Watchouts for speakers of other languages

If your first language is not English the chances are that you use a different R in your language. In Russian, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Korean, Japanese and many other languages the tip of the tongue touches the area behind the teeth. This results in a harsher R. Single touch makes the rolling r and a series of more than one touch makes a trilling r. In other languages like German or French the tongue touches the back of the throat. Neither of those ways sounds familiar to native speakers of American English.

The key difference between English R and R sounds from other languages is the position of the tongue. In English the front of your tongue must not touch anywhere in your month.

American English R vs. British English R

American English and British English use the same R sound. American English is a rhotic accent – you pronounce every written R. British English is non-rhotic accent and you pronounce only the Rs which are followed by a vowel (e.g. red) but not the other ones (e.g. car).

Practice words with “r”

room [rum]

ready [‘redi]

right [raɪt]

for [fɔr]

bring [brɪŋ]

brother [ˈbrʌð·ər]

car [kɑr]

ear [ɪər]

year [jɪər]

Spelling of the sound “r”

When to use the R sound? Check out the common spelling scenarios:

  • RR scenario e.g.  sorry [ˈsɑr·i], married [ˈmer.id], arrow [ˈær·oʊ]
  • WR scenario e.g. write [rɑɪt], wrong [rɔŋ], awry [əˈrɑɪ]
  • R scenario e.g. red [red], right [rɑɪt], car [kɑr]

English is not a phonetic language. This means that it is hard to tell how to pronounce a word by looking at it.

You will want to use a dictionary with phonetic transcription to be absolutely sure how to pronounce a given word say awry. R’s IPA phonetic symbol is ɹ – which looks like a small letter r standing on its head. Many dictionaries decided to use just r to make things easier for the users.

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