Pronouncing the 'R' Sound...the Right
When I work on American English pronunciation with Asian
students, I often find that they have difficulties hearing and
pronouncing the English /r/ sound.
The /r/ sound is used frequently in spoken American English.
And while most other languages have their own /r/ sound these
are usually different than the sound we use in American
The difference between the /r/ and /l/ sounds
Speakers of Asian languages don’t always hear the difference
between the American /l/ and /r/ sounds so they may use the
sounds interchangeably. Japanese and Korean speakers will often
substitute the /l/ sound for the /r/ sound and Mandarin
speakers may use either the /l/ sound or the /w/ sound for the
/r/ sound. These types of pronunciation errors create an
accent and often lead to misunderstandings.
For example, I have heard my students say the following
“Turn to the light”, when they meant to say, “Turn to
“Classes start next reek”, when they meant to say,
“Classes start next week”.
“I will bring some lice to the party”, when they meant
to say, “I will bring some rice to the party”.
(If you don’t know what ‘lice’ is in English you should look
it up in your dictionary!)
Common Pronunciation Errors with the /r/ sound
Here are some common pronunciation errors in words with the
Click the Play button to listen and repeat as I say the
words in the first column:
Mini Lesson: How to Pronounce the Sounds of /r/
Since the /r/ sound is used frequently in
spoken English it is important to say it correctly. The /r/
sound is found at the beginning, middle and end of words and
in consonant clusters.
This is how to make the /r/
The tip of your tongue should be rolled
back a bit but your tongue should not touch the gum
ridge! Your lips should be slightly rounded. The air
should flow fluidly through your mouth without
One way to get into the /r/ position is to say
“aaaaaaa” with your mouth slightly open. Curl your tongue
back as you round your lips.
When you make the /l/
Your tongue should be flat in your
mouth and the tip of your tongue should lightly
touch the gum ridge.
Now say the words below. When you make the /r/
sound curl your tongue back and keep your tongue from
touching the gum ridge! When you say the /l/ sound your
tongue should be flat with the tip lightly touching the gum
red > led
row > low
wrong > long
rice > lice
pirate > pilot
correct > collect
Click the play button to listen and
repeat each pair of words after me:
If you are still having trouble hearing the
difference between the /r/ and /l/ sounds you can use the
free online resource from Okanagan College that I
recommended last week. This link will take you directly to
the section on /r/ & /l/.