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Tips to pronounce the French R

April 25, 2024 by Mylene in How to Pronounce  ▪  

The French R sound is notoriously challenging for non-native speakers to master. However, with some practice and an understanding of its various pronunciations, you’ll be speaking like a native in no time. To begin, it’s crucial to recognize that the phoneme [ʁ] is statistically the most frequent phoneme in French.

There are 3 different pronunciations for this phoneme depending on its place in the word. It can be sour, sonorous or even rotten. To master the French R sound, it’s essential to practice these different pronunciations and incorporate tongue twisters and exercises into your daily routine.

In what follows, you’ll discover exercises to train yourself to pronounce the sound R correctly. With time and dedication, you’ll be able to pronounce this challenging sound with confidence and accuracy, taking your French language skills to the next level. Here are the points we will look at:

  1. Most common spelling
  2. Three types of R
  3. A video to pronounce the sound R
  4. How to pronounce R
  5. Tongue twisters with R
  6. The double R

1. Most common spelling

  • r : course [kuʁs]
  • rr : arriver [aʁive]
  • rh : rhume [ʁym]

2. Three types of R

Articulation: liquid, velar, dull or sonorous.

There are variants of [ʁ] which are realized depending on the phonetic context:

  • R can become unvoiced upon contact with an unvoiced consonant, as in tartre, écrit, perte;
  • R can be voiced in contact with voiced consonants, as in perdre, drôle; grand ;
  • R can be devibrated in absolute final: venir, dire;

3. A video to pronounce the French R

By watching a video specifically designed for practicing the [ʁ] sound, you can gain insight into how the sound is produced and then attempt to replicate it. I added tongue twisters at the end of the video as an engaging way to practice this new sound.

YouTube player

4. How to pronounce the French R?

Step 1: Tongue position

The tip of the tongue should touch the lower front teeth.

Step 2: The mouth

The mouth is open.

Step 3: The articulation

The posterior part of the back of the tongue is placed against the uvula or the back of the soft palate. To practice pronouncing this sound, you can use another consonant that you know how to pronounce better: the consonant [g]. The point of contact of the back of the tongue with the soft palate is the same. The idea of ​​this exercise is to pronounce the same vowel before and after R.

Practice pronouncing in order:

  • The vowel [a] is easiest to pronounce with [ʁ]. Then pronounce a long [a].
  • Then [aga]
  • Then [aʁa]

You can do the same thing with other vowels.

Pronounce in order:

  • [a] ; [aga] ; [aʁa] as in rare
  • [ɛ] ; [ɛgɛ] ; [ɛʁɛ] as in reine
  • [e] ; [ege] ; [eʁe] as in ré
  • [i] ; [igi] ; [iʁi] as in riz
  • [œ] ; [œgœ] ; [œʁœ] as in horreur
  • [ø] ; [øgø] ; [øʁø] as in heureux
  • [y] ; [ygy] ; [yʁy] as in rue
  • [ə] ; [əgə] ; [əʁə] as in revenir
  • [ɔ] ; [ɔgɔ] ; [ɔʁɔ] as in Rome
  • [o] ; [ogo] ; [oʁo] as in arôme
  • [u] ; [ugu] ; [uʁu] as in route
  • [ɑ̃] ; [ɑ̃gɑ̃] ; [ɑ̃ʁɑ̃] as in parent
  • [õ] ; [õgõ] ; [õʁõ] as in rond
  • [ɛ̃] ; [ɛ̃gɛ̃] ; [ɛ̃ʁɛ̃] as in parrain

5. The tongue twisters

After the warm-up above, you can practice each day by saying the following tongue twisters:

  • Trois autres princes
  • C’est une Russe rousse
  • Le grand-père rentrera tard ce soir
  • La robe rouge de Rosalie est ravissante
  • Le mur murant Paris rend Paris murmurant

6. The double [ʁ]

We encounter a double [ʁ] quite frequently. The pronunciation of a double [ʁ] can be important in certain cases, to distinguish, for example:

  • pour apporter / pour rapporter
  • pour enseigner / pour renseigner
  • leur apport / leurs rapports
  • pas rangé / par rangées

In the second case, you should always pronounce a louder and longer R. You can find out more about the double R by checking out this lesson.

Go further

To master the correct pronunciation of the R sound in French, it is crucial to begin with a solid foundation in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Once you have a grasp on these fundamentals, you can focus on cultivating your phonetic awareness. This involves understanding how different parts of your mouth work together to produce various sounds. With consistent practice and patience, you will find that your pronunciation becomes more natural and automatic, allowing you to focus on speaking French without needing to consciously think about the mechanics of how your mouth and tongue move.

If you want to train your ear to distinguish the dull, sonorous or devibrated [ʁ] sound, you will enjoy practicing with the sounds’ module in the online course. To discover other tips, you can join the pronunciation course available here. By taking the courses and dedicating consistent effort, you’ll be well on your way to mastering the R sound in French and strengthening your overall language skills.

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