How To Pronounce the French R

The French and English languages may have a few common elements, but there are certain sounds and pronunciations that are only present in the English and not in French, and vice versa. Some French sounds like the French "R" require you to use your mouth, throat and lips in a totally different way - a way that is very much alien to what English speakers would be familiar with. The movement of air from the lungs through the other airways during exhalation is what produces the sound that is needed.

Some of the most well-known French words that even non-native French speakers have adopted now have a lot of R's. The words that jump to mind are au revior (meaning goodbye) and a reservoir ( a word that has already found its way in English meaning a reserve of any sort, but usually used for water). Pronouncing the last "r" sound in these words the same way one would pronounce an "r" sound in English just wouldn't suffice at all.  Some also make the mistake of omitting the "r" sound entirely. For instance, some pronounce au revoir as "oh-revwha", but this is clearly wrong because the "r" sound has to be distinctly heard in a distinctly French style.

To correctly pronounce the distinctive R sound in French, here are a few tips.

  1. Open your mouth and try to relax your cheek and jaw muscles. Opening your mouth also lets you ease up on your soft palate. Any speech teacher would suggest that you do simple mouth exercises, like opening and closing the mouth, pushing and retracting the lips and vocalizations. These would prepare the mouth for better pronunciation.
  2. Now, try putting tensing up your throat and say the "k" sound "kah" multiple times. This should feel like the sound is coming from just above the voice box. This may have a distinctively guttural or "throaty" character that is not that apparent in English words.
  3. It may feel like your choking on your words if you overdo it, so you have to master just how much you have to close or tense your throat muscles to create the sound that would be appropriate for an actual conversation. It might be tempting to overdo it as a beginner, but be mindful that exaggerating this sound may be viewed as something rude by those who actually speak French.
  4. Make sure that you can create the sound with the least possible amount of effort and discomfort. The French language is a lot more than just an "r" sound, so make sure that you can connect the other sounds with "r" sounds as seamlessly. Saying "au revoir" or "reservoir" repeatedly could help you get the hang of it.

The key to perfecting pronunciation is practice. You will only get this pronunciation skill if you do it more frequently. It may also help to identify a few other foreign words that have a similar sound. The Scottish term for lake for example, Loch (as in Loch Ness) has a similar sound.  The same goes for the Arab words with the "kh" sound.


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