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ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

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ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby KharismaticKayteh » Thu 11.17.2011 1:23 am

If this particular topic has already been made, ごめんなさい, as I could not search it very adequately (the search function deemed simply "ra" as too short a search term, and I tried "sound", but did not find anything promising).

I used to be confident pronouncing the R's, but now I am not entirely sure. I believe I had read someplace that the R's are about the same as they are here, except that in Japanese, you touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth to produce a slightly different sound. My question is rather this is correct, and if not, how, physiologically, one is supposed to produce the correct R sounds. I had believed at one point you should just pronounce them as English L's, but this doesn't seem right to me either.

Another question I have is that should I not master the correct pronunciation of the R's, would a Nihonjin still under Japanese with more firm American R sounds? I don't hope to take the easy way out, but I am curious.

ありがとう御座います。
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Thu 11.17.2011 2:47 am

The R sound in Japanese has a wide variety of pronunciations depending on the individual, so you would probably be understood and just sound like a foreigner if you used an American R, depending on your regional accent. (Not all American R's are the same either... even in the same accent they aren't. You want something more like the 'R' in 'ring' and less like the 'R' in 'or'... )

There are Japanese R's that are almost 'L' in sound, and others that are like a spanish trilled R, but the standard Japanese R is somewhere midway between L and R in sound. Pick someone you want to sound like and imitate their R-sounds until you get better at it. (Mind you, if you learn your accent from a tough character in a fighting anime, you'll sound like a street thug... )

I had already practiced the Japanese R pretty diligently before I first spoke to a Japanese person (other than my instructor!) so I don't really know from experience how much trouble an American R will be.

(You'll also find most of the other sounds aren't really quite identical to anything in English. Close, but... not quite. There's a whole science to categorizing these nearly-the-same sounds and you can lose a lot of time in wikipedia if you start looking at the international phonetic alphabet and searching out the sounds used in Japanese. I make no promises that such time will improve your accent, but it can't hurt.)
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby KharismaticKayteh » Thu 11.17.2011 11:33 am

Ahh, I see. I'm from Arkansas, so I should probably be careful of that, hahaha. My R's would come off quite firm.

I was, however, wondering how to make the standard Japanese R. Don't hurt yourself explaining in case what I'm asking is complicated, but I mean like the particular location of the tongue in the mouth. Various teachers have said different things, and I remember one distinctly saying that your tongue should touch the roof of your mouth (about midway or as far back as possible) in order to create the proper R.

Also, I had a gigglefit at "street thug".

Oh, that's true. I had heard that's one reason a learner shouldn't get too used to reading romaji (because it instills the idea that Japanese sounds are more similar to Latin sounds than they really are). I think the time spent on Wikipedia might actually be worth it! =D. Thanks so much!
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby SomeCallMeChris » Thu 11.17.2011 1:03 pm

I agree with your teacher, it seems like I'm mostly making a light R sound with the rest of my mouth while my tongue grazes and comes away from the roof of my mouth.
But then, I have no idea if the compliments on my accent are genuine or from the cultural tendency to encourage any progress at all... I only know it's good enough to at least be understood over skype.
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby chikara » Thu 11.17.2011 8:00 pm

KharismaticKayteh wrote:......I used to be confident pronouncing the R's, but now I am not entirely sure. I believe I had read someplace that the R's are about the same as they are here, except that in Japanese, you touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth to produce a slightly different sound. My question is rather this is correct, and if not, how, physiologically, one is supposed to produce the correct R sounds. I had believed at one point you should just pronounce them as English L's, but this doesn't seem right to me either. ...

Why go by written descriptions of how Japanese is pronounced when there are so many sound files to listen to? There are even some right here on TJP.

As to how you physiologically produce the sound I'm not sure I can explain that. If you consider what your tongue does when you pronounce an English R and an L it is pretty much the opposite, pulled back for an R and pushed forward to the back of your teeth for an L. To get a Japanese R sound I try to hit somewhere in between. Try pronouncing an English R while pushing your tongue forward.

Disclaimer: I speak Japanese with an Aussie accent. :blush:

KharismaticKayteh wrote:...... Another question I have is that should I not master the correct pronunciation of the R's, would a Nihonjin still under Japanese with more firm American R sounds? I don't hope to take the easy way out, but I am curious. ....

Do you understand what a Japanese person means when they say "remon" in English? :)

KharismaticKayteh wrote:...... I had read someplace that the R's are about the same as they are here ....

KharismaticKayteh wrote:...... I'm from Arkansas ....

You and I may both be native English speakers but I bet that your R's and L's are quite different to mine. In relation to the above question I'm sure you'd be able to understand most of what I say as I would you.
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby KharismaticKayteh » Fri 11.18.2011 9:55 pm

SomeCallMeChris wrote:I agree with your teacher, it seems like I'm mostly making a light R sound with the rest of my mouth while my tongue grazes and comes away from the roof of my mouth.
But then, I have no idea if the compliments on my accent are genuine or from the cultural tendency to encourage any progress at all... I only know it's good enough to at least be understood over skype.


Oh, yeah, I know what you mean. I send a simple "始めまして!アメリカのキャサリンです。お元気ですか?" in a message over Interpals, and people reply that my Japanese is impressive, but I'm thinking, "Oh, anyone who knows a little Japanese can do that." I personally think Skype or even the phone is more difficult to understand anyone than in person, so if you can be understood over Skype, you must be doing well. ^~^.

chikara wrote:
KharismaticKayteh wrote:......I used to be confident pronouncing the R's, but now I am not entirely sure. I believe I had read someplace that the R's are about the same as they are here, except that in Japanese, you touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth to produce a slightly different sound. My question is rather this is correct, and if not, how, physiologically, one is supposed to produce the correct R sounds. I had believed at one point you should just pronounce them as English L's, but this doesn't seem right to me either. ...

Why go by written descriptions of how Japanese is pronounced when there are so many sound files to listen to? There are even some right here on TJP.

As to how you physiologically produce the sound I'm not sure I can explain that. If you consider what your tongue does when you pronounce an English R and an L it is pretty much the opposite, pulled back for an R and pushed forward to the back of your teeth for an L. To get a Japanese R sound I try to hit somewhere in between. Try pronouncing an English R while pushing your tongue forward.

Disclaimer: I speak Japanese with an Aussie accent. :blush:

I seem to have more difficulty listening to sound files to get an idea of how something should be pronounced. I guess just because different people learn in different ways? For instance, I listened to a sound file for "hu/fu" maybe thirty times over, and I still can't hear how it's considered "fu" when it sounds more like "hu" to me. Or is it the other way around? <-- That's how confused I get over it, hahaha.

chikara wrote:
KharismaticKayteh wrote:...... Another question I have is that should I not master the correct pronunciation of the R's, would a Nihonjin still under Japanese with more firm American R sounds? I don't hope to take the easy way out, but I am curious. ....

Do you understand what a Japanese person means when they say "remon" in English? :)

Indeed! But would I always understand if they confuse their R's and L's? There are many a comedy regarding such a situation and the difficulty to understand, so I figure it must be realistic, to a degree.

chikara wrote:
KharismaticKayteh wrote:...... I had read someplace that the R's are about the same as they are here ....

KharismaticKayteh wrote:...... I'm from Arkansas ....

You and I may both be native English speakers but I bet that your R's and L's are quite different to mine. In relation to the above question I'm sure you'd be able to understand most of what I say as I would you.

Oh, yes, many of your letters are different to mine, I'm sure! xD. I love listening to Australian accents though. I could watch EmmaxMaree videos all day. <3.
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby micahcowan » Sat 11.19.2011 10:30 pm

I have heard the Japanese R being described as similar to a D in some cases. I prefer to think of it as a Spanish rolled R, but being sure to use only a single flick of the tongue.

It's really formed a lot like L, but doesn't normally sound much like one at all, because you make the L shape so very, very briefly (and, I think, a little farther forward on the roof of the mouth than an English L); if you keep the tongue there even a fraction of a second too long, it sounds like an L (wrong). It really has to just bounce off the roof of the mouth.

I don't like comparing it to D, especially since it's not similar at all to Japanese D, or a hard English D; but it is very like the soft "D" sound you get from normal pronunciation of words like "bitter" or "batter" (the sound the "tt" makes in those words, when spoken at a natural speed). The Japanese noticed this similarity when they transliterated our "pudding" as プリン ("purin"), which is much closer to its pronunciation than プッディング ("puddingu" or similar) would have been.

Hope that helps, rather than confusing things more... :)
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby KharismaticKayteh » Sun 11.20.2011 1:53 am

micahcowan wrote:I have heard the Japanese R being described as similar to a D in some cases. I prefer to think of it as a Spanish rolled R, but being sure to use only a single flick of the tongue.

It's really formed a lot like L, but doesn't normally sound much like one at all, because you make the L shape so very, very briefly (and, I think, a little farther forward on the roof of the mouth than an English L); if you keep the tongue there even a fraction of a second too long, it sounds like an L (wrong). It really has to just bounce off the roof of the mouth.

I don't like comparing it to D, especially since it's not similar at all to Japanese D, or a hard English D; but it is very like the soft "D" sound you get from normal pronunciation of words like "bitter" or "batter" (the sound the "tt" makes in those words, when spoken at a natural speed). The Japanese noticed this similarity when they transliterated our "pudding" as プリン ("purin"), which is much closer to its pronunciation than プッディング ("puddingu" or similar) would have been.

Hope that helps, rather than confusing things more... :)


Yes, I actually found this very helpful! 有難う御座います! I actually frequently make R sounds that seem like D's, and I kept beating myself up because I felt it was so terribly wrong. xD. I guess I was so cautious regarding my R's sounding like D's because they *do* use D sounds, and I worried it may be possible that a Nihonjin would be confused by my pronunciation. How would you recommend to differentiate the D's from R's then? I just practiced a few R's to D's and I felt my tongue was more forward in my mouth for D sounds than for R's.
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby micahcowan » Wed 11.23.2011 6:56 am

KharismaticKayteh wrote:Yes, I actually found this very helpful! 有難う御座います! I actually frequently make R sounds that seem like D's, and I kept beating myself up because I felt it was so terribly wrong. xD. I guess I was so cautious regarding my R's sounding like D's because they *do* use D sounds, and I worried it may be possible that a Nihonjin would be confused by my pronunciation. How would you recommend to differentiate the D's from R's then? I just practiced a few R's to D's and I felt my tongue was more forward in my mouth for D sounds than for R's.


Well, Japanese D's are a much harder D sound generally. Listening to spoken Japanese is the best way to distinguish them, I think. It's usually easy for me to distinguish it if it's at the start of the word or follows a vowel - it sounds very much like a soft Spanish R in those situations (never the rolled/trilled Spanish initial R or double RR); but when it follows ん, it can be a little harder. It's still always a much softer sound than a hard D, but somehow the movement from ん to the R makes it harder to distinguish for me, at least when the ん is being sounded as a hard N, and not an NG or more of a nasalized vowel. Of course, if it's one of リャ リュ リョ, then it's easy, since デャ デュ デョ aren't found in Japanese.
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby Hektor6766 » Thu 11.24.2011 10:50 am

Considering the r's and the softness of the u's, when the speaker really gets going, I've sometimes mistaken a -る for a で. But the d sound is softer on the r's, with the tongue looser and flatter against the palate.
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Re: ら、り、る、れ、ろ -- Pronouncing the R's.

Postby kalavinka » Thu 01.12.2012 1:28 pm

Have you found good variety of audio files to listen to so that you can get a better sense of the pronunciation? Or do you know any Japanese speakers, even if they work at a restaurant, that could listen and help?

I never thought about where you place the tongue but I just tried to say the girl name Lisa (since it exists in Japanese too) and my California English places the tongue just behind my front teeth. But when saying it as an Okinawan, (I'm half and don't think I sound gaijin), the tongue does hit front part of the roof of my mouth, just a little above the front teeth. Maybe you could try to do the same and start off saying it in English but then slowly moving your tongue back until it sounds Japanese? Just a thought.
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