This consonant is probably the hardest sound in American English! You’ll get a better idea of how to make this sound by looking at the tongue position in illustrations and studying up close, slow motion speech.
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The R consonant sound. This is truly one of the hardest sounds in American English. Before I go into how to make it, I want to talk about two ways not to make it: some common mistakes that I see in my students. First, is to make a D-like sound, ruh, ruh, where there the tongue flips. If you can’t hold out the sound, rrrrrr, then it’s not a proper R sound. Also, some of my students are able to get a pretty good R sound by, incorrectly, curling the tongue backwards, rrrr. Though you can hold this out, and it does make an ok, R sound, it’s sort of a hollow sound and doesn’t quite have the tight quality of a correct R sound. How to make the R sound correctly? Rr.
To make this sound, the tongue will pull back somewhat. It will fatten and raise in the middle, rr, rr, about here. Because it is raising, the tongue will actually be touching the insides and bottom of the top teeth, rr, rr, on either side of the mouth, rr, rr. Because the tongue has pulled back a bit and fattened, the front part of the tongue does come down, but it’s not touching anything inside the mouth, rr, rr, rr. And you can see that the corners of the lips come in, bringing the lips away from the face, rr, rr. If the R comes at the beginning of a word, like in my name, Rachel, the lips may take a very tight circle, Rachel. If it comes at the end of a word or a syllable, it may be more relaxed, like in the word father, father, rr, rr. You can see the lips are not as rounded as in Rachel.
Here we see a photo of 3 different words with the R sound. The first is my name, Rachel, so that’s a beginning R, an R that begins a word. The second is the word proud, so the R is not the initial sound, but it is towards the beginning of the syllable, before the vowel. And the third is the word whatever, where the R sound comes at the end. Notice on all three of these sounds that the corners of the mouth come in a little bit, causing the lips to round somewhat.
Here we see a photo of the first R sound in the word cracker on the right compared with the mouth at rest on the left. Notice that the corners of the lips are pushed forward and in a little bit. Here, parts of the mouth are drawn in. The soft palate is raised on this sound. In the middle of the mouth the tongue fattens up and raises, pressing against the insides of the top teeth. This draws the tip of the tongue back so that it is not touching anything Here we see this same R sound, the first R in cracker, but now it’s on the left, on the right we see the R in the word ‘whatever’, the R sound that comes at the end of a word. You can see that the tongue position is a little bit different in that the tongue is slightly further back in the final R sound. Because of this further back position, R sounds at the beginning of syllables feel more forward in the face, whereas R sounds at the end of syllables feel further back in the mouth. Sample words: run, relax, father. Sample sentence: Whenever Rebecca drives her car around New York, she really worries about parking it on the street. Now you’ll see this sentence up close and in slow motion, both straight on and from an angle, so you can really study how the mouth moves when making this sound.
Whenever, lips form the tight circle for the W, ‘eh’ as in ‘bed’ and the tongue tip up to make the N. Bottom lip up to make the V and here’s an unaccented ‘ur’ syllable. Rebecca, lips together for the B. Back of the tongue up for the KK sound. Drives, lip position for the R. Bottom lip up for the V sound. Her, R lip position, car, R lip position, and you can see the tongue moving up in the back to make the R, car. To New York, tight circle for the ‘oo’ as in ‘boo’, York. The R is at the end of the syllable here, so the lips are more relaxed. She, lips form the SH position. Really, this is a beginning R, and now look at how tight that lip circle is for the R in really. Really, tongue makes the L. Worries, lips form a tight circle for the W, worries. About, lips together for the B. Parking, again you see the tongue move up in the back for the R. Parking it on, tongue up to make the N. The, tongue through the teeth for the TH.Street. Again, lip position for the R. Street, corners of the lips pull back for the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’.
Whenever, lips begin in the tight circle for the W. Whe-, tongue tip up to make the N, -ever, bottom lip up to make the V. And then a quick RR sound, Rebecca. Tongue up in the back for the kk sound. Drives, lips form that R position. Bottom lip up to make the V. Her, again, note the lip position for the R, also on car. Now here you can see how far back the tongue is. This is the front part of the tongue coming back down from where the middle is up,pressing against the insides of the top teeth. To, tongue tip up to make the T. It’s reduced here to the schwa, to, to New York, New, the ‘oo’ as in ‘boo’. York, Y consonant sound. She, lips form the SH sound. Really, here again, notice how tight the circle is for the R. Really. Worries, again, tight circle, this time for the W. Here again you can see that the tongue is quite far back for the R sound. Worries. About, lips together for the B, again together for the P, parking. Here the ‘ah’ as in ‘father’ followed by the R consonant sound, the R consonant sound has a way of taking over this vowel. And you can see that the lips are in the R position and that the front part of the tongue has pulled back as the middle part of the tongue has fattened up and raised. This is the front part of the tongue as it is dropping back down from the roof of the mouth. Parking it. Tongue tip up to make the T. It on the, tongue through the teeth for the TH. And street. ST and the R consonant sound opening into the ‘ee’ as in ‘she’ vowel sound. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.