The “r” sound is probably the most frequently used sound in English. It occurs as a consonant, as in the words “red” and “around”; it occurs as a vowel, as in the words “mother” and “bird”; it occurs in diphthongs, as in the words “fair”, “year” and “before”; and it occurs in consonant blends as in the words “three”, “scratch”, and “practice.” The “r” is everywhere!
If English is your second language, you most likely are pronouncing the “r” very differently than how it is pronounced in English. Most languages use the tip of the tongue to form the “r” and the lips remain flat and relaxed. The tongue tip quickly hits the roof of the mouth just behind the upper front teeth either once, which is called “rolling”, or several times, which is called “trilling.” Languages such as Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and Portuguese are just a few that form the “r” in this way. Other languages, such as German and French form the “r” with the back of the tongue against the back of the throat, with the lips again remaining flat and relaxed.
To form the American English “r”, follow these simple steps:
- Place your lips in a circle. Do not forget this step, as it is a very important one! As soon as you make a circle with your lips, your lower jaw will automatically move slightly forward. It is not something that you will need to force your jaw to do; this occurs naturally. It is important, however, to be aware of the movements your lower jaw makes as you form the “r” sound.
- Keep your teeth fairly close together; they should only be slightly separated.
- With your lips, teeth, and jaw in place, raise the front of your tongue up toward the roof of your mouth, but not touching it. This is the most difficult part! If your tongue tip touches anything, it will sound like rolling and will be different from the American English “r."
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