by

I hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas (if that’s what you celebrate), full of Christmas Cake and KFC. Yum! Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra raaaa!

One of the things that almost every Japanese learner has trouble with (if they’re a native English speaker), is the Japanese “R” sound. More specifically: Ra, ri, ru, re, & ro. Often times, it just ends up being a straight-up “R” sound, which is wrong, or some weird hybrid version of the sound that “L” makes when it’s on the toilet. It’s kind of sad, but very few people have “cracked” the Japanese “R” sound. A good 90% of people have trouble with this, and I’m going to flip that statistic on it’s head. After going through this lesson, 90% of you will be able to pronounce the Japanese R sound perfectly.

How To Do The Japanese “R”

[yframe url=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2wzUuGm7yw’]

Until a linguist friend told me about these steps, I was able to do the “R” sound, but it was difficult to explain in a way that most people could understand and see results. How did you do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Better? The same? Worse (I hope not).

Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra!

  • Velleos

    Excellent advice. Now only the dreaded “n” sound stands in our way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jernej-Rozenberger/1398611058 Jernej Rozenberger

    actually … the “n” sound is simple… say n like in english and than throw away the first part so you only get the nosal sound :)

  • http://enekochan.com/ enekochan

    I was thinking while watching first seconds of the video “well I have no problem with R in japanese…” then you said “10% probably are spanish…”. Lucky me spanish has almost all japanese phoneme.

  • Joyce

    Great explanation, Koichi. That whole “They get their r's and l's mixed up, isn't that funny” thing is a huge pet peeve of mine…. when in fact the American-English-style r's and l's just don't exist as phonemes in Japanese. And without knowing how to do the Japanese “r,” you can't even get close to that tricky “ry-” sound! PS I'm really looking forward to your textbook.

  • http://bridgetbeaver.blogspot.com bridgetbeaver

    Koichi, you WIN! This is the best explanation ever! Seriously! I e-mailed this to my linguistics prof!

    yaaay <3 linguistics <3

  • http://www.twitter.com/christaran Chris Taran

    Still don't get why it's a pet peeve of yours as it's the truth. And I've never found the Japanese 'r' to be difficult. Also, I failed Spanish in high school many, many times (had nothing to do with pronunciation though).

  • http://thisisrelevant.com/ travis

    where did you get the sweet t-shirt?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    I think that one was from FastMac

  • justin

    Only 8 comments??????

  • Jaksa

    140 comments on YouTube

  • Ysuke

    Thanks for the review. I actually felt confident in pronouncing the Japanese “R” before, but this is helpful. I'll think of it as a safety net just in case I get rusty. I'm bound to when I'm surrounded by idiots who say “ching-chong” when making fun of the Japanese and weeboos that try watching anime with English subtitles and 5 minutes later say “MY BRAIN HURTS” and go to the dub. Yes, Koichi. I know watching anime with English subtitles is not an effective learning strategy. It's purely for entertainment. I'd rather see a German film in German, a French film in French, etc. So obviously I'd rather see any type of Japanese movie or TV show in Japanese. Sorry, but I had to clarify that and I know how much you hate it when people use anime to learn Japanese. So, thanks again.

  • ishika

    ok I m whole new to this Japanese Learning Culture But I have been trying this since long. I am like half Japanese girl. I never bothered to learn or know about Japan but recently I m in a kinda love with Japanese culture and all. I wanna learn Japanese. I am reading ur website to see how I can start learning Japanese.
    For this I need atleast one japanese Friend.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    haha, did that text get you to comment?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Finding Japanese friends / language partners -> http://lang-8.com

    Though, usually this requires you to know a little bit of Japanese, first.

    *cough* http://textfugu.com *cough*

    Or, if you want some other suggestions I'd be happy to point you around.

  • http://twitter.com/steyph14 steyph

    hey! how come? what's up with the 'n'? just wondering. still getting to know about japanese here. doumo!

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  • caughtredhanded

    Soooo, I'm way late in making a comment here, but great lesson! Managed to master this sound quite a while back, but never known how to explain it to somebody else. Now it would appear that the veil has been lifted – great work! Whoop!

  • Cass

    Thank god my dad pushed me to learn Spanish at home. Now I have to push myself to learn Japanese.

  • Velleos

    I reply late. Very late. I was referring to the “n” sound as some books say to pronounce it. Without your tongue, with the sound made in your throat. I use my tongue anyways, though.

  • JackiJinx

    Maybe I'm just odd, but I don't find the 'R' sound so hard anymore, but the 'fu' and 'bu' sounds drive me mad. No one understand me when I try to say たぶん @___@

  • jenny

    this is great! thx much for sharing.

  • Timbit

    This video explains where to put your tongue, but i am wondering, what motion are we to make with the tongue/ “air movement?” With the L, the tongue does all the work. With a D, the air kind of pushes or “bursts” against/on the tongue. For an R, the tongue curves a bit while moving. I don't know if my explanation is too weird, but i think i need to know what kind of tongue movement is happening when making the sound.

  • Vince

    the japanese “r” sound came easy for me, since my first language was spanish. There are 2 “r”s in spanish, the r sound in “roberto” and the double “rr”, or rolling r” in the word “Carro” or car in english.

  • steph

    I pronounce it with the “dd” sound in ladder… dunno if that's right xD

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504630606 Maureen Fanta

    Hi! Just caught your video and I found it very helpful. One question: you mentioned that being of Spanish descent might make the Japanese R easier to pronounce, but is it just because they're similar? They sound different to me, and yet I find myself using them interchangeably. I know that's not exactly right. Advice?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504630606 Maureen Fanta

    Hi! Just caught your video and I found it very helpful. One question: you mentioned that being of Spanish descent might make the Japanese R easier to pronounce, but is it just because they're similar? They sound different to me, and yet I find myself using them interchangeably. I know that's not exactly right. Advice?

  • http://kennylex.blogspot.com/ kenny_lex

    I still has some “R” questions, for when I listen on Japanese news do I often hear the word kuruma with a clear R as in Yarrr, also when I hear words as sayonara, but also ari and aru as in this songs, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uoRaRIWKTg

    So my question is is folks in Japan will floor-LOL me if I say R as an pirate?

  • Will

    Im brazilian, and portuguese pronunce is quite similar to japanese, so its easy to me ^^

  • http://kennylex.blogspot.com/ kenny_lex

    I still has some “R” questions, for when I listen on Japanese news do I often hear the word kuruma with a clear R as in Yarrr, also when I hear words as sayonara, but also ari and aru as in this songs, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uoRaRIWKTg

    So my question is is folks in Japan will floor-LOL me if I say R as an pirate?

  • Will

    Im brazilian, and portuguese pronunce is quite similar to japanese, so its easy to me ^^

  • sytn

    I think that I can do it when the sounds are by themselves (ra, ri, ru, re, ro), but when they are in a word, especially next to each other, I find it very difficult. For example, taberareru, ireru, etc.

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  • http://twitter.com/Purplecat80 adeana king

    Yep, that about does it. As a Spanish speaker as well my tongue always felt in danger of rolling on ra, ri, ru, re, ro.. the la/da thing made my brain make a totally different file. YaY!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_BGUT7GUM54II5IBEIDCQVK6DYA Melanie

    W00t! And here I was thinking I need my own sweater of shame, but no! For strange reasons I was quite spot on. *happy geek-out* Now I can finally practice without feeling that I have it wrong. :D
    ども ありがとう ございまして. ^.^

  • http://katiesjapanfiles.wordpress.com Katie Muffett

    Excellent video! You’ve got some great insights into Japanese that get completely overlooked in a lot of tutorials. I wasn’t too far off in my ‘r’s as I grew up in Florida and used to speak a bit of Spanish. I love how Japanese punk and rock bands roll (or trill) their r’s like in Spanish to make it sounds more edgy ^ ^

    I also noticed someone mention the ‘n’, and I’ve noticed that it’s also a between sound. The nasal quality of ‘n’ but almost closing the mouth to do an ‘m’. Watching singers really accentuates that last bit.

  • Moq

    ive always found it quite comfortable to learn a new language’s sound. i think its because i forget about all the languages i can relate to and feel like im a baby re learning a whole different sound. the placement of the sounds and movement of mouth are so interesting >W<

  • Moq_enchovia

    how about some ‘m’ consonants in katakana? i sometimes hear ppl. say ‘n’ instead of ‘m’ when they use katakana…

  • http://twitter.com/terpsikhore Kitty Brown

    So not only can I still not come close to the ‘R’ sound – but after your comments about ‘la’ and ‘da’, I’ve come to the conclusion I’m clearly not even speaking my OWN language right!
    Because my tongue is in nowhere near the positions you described when pronouncing ‘L’ and ‘D’, haha. Maybe I should find someone who can teach me to correctly pronounce the language I’ve been speaking for more than 2 decades. Then I might have more luck with learning a new one!

  • http://www.facebook.com/migzaTRON Milan Migza Stipanovic

    Slavic people use the simillar R like japanese and spanish, being serbian I had no problem with it. Now I only have to learn all the kanji, nouns, verbs, particles… :D

  • Giorgixo

    I’m a native spanish speaker and i’m trying to learn japanese on my own because i think its amazing and also my boyfriend is japanese…but even though i can say the r sound, i think your video was helpful ^_^

  • Student

    Thank you. I am a student who is trying to get a minor in Japanese, and while my accent is too bad, it’s definitely not amazing, nevertheless good. I’m still working to get the Japanese r sound, but hopefully I will return to school and amaze my drill teacher next semester. Thank you!

  • Wayne Cellon

    I’ve found your site very helpful, but this didn’t help at all. When I say “la” and “da”, my tongue is in exactly the same place behind my top teeth. The only difference I notice is that for “la”, the sides of my tongue curl slightly upwards and for “da”, my tongue stays flat.

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    I’m assuming its just like the 라 in Korean. Basically the sound of 하라 (ha-ra) and 하다 (ha-da) are very close… in the first your tongue flicks the roof of your mouth, in the second you basically bite your tongue (which is why Koreans are always sticking their tongue out) :P!

    화이팅! (Fighting!)

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  • Los

    Funny you should mention the native Spanish speaker thing. I’m semi-native (all I spoke as a kid) and I still remember a lot of it. It does get easier if you know how to roll your tongue and such! Now I just have to train myself to get out of the mindset that words ending in “a” are feminine and words ending in “o” are masculine.

  • tara

    i love this ! thank you !
    feel free to explain how to pronunce n in words like kin’youbi *hint hint*

  • tara

    that happens in alot of words, say えんぴつ enpitsu
    when your lips come together to for the ‘ P ‘ the n sounds more like an m

    but if your just hearing it in katakana words than it might be euphony (sp ?) it where in a language a sound is changed to make it sound nicer (or more like the foriegn word it represents)

  • NorCalGal4

    Thanks so much – very helpful tips.
    Now, what about “りゃ, りゅ, りょ” ? Got any tips for achieving even a minimal level of proficiency with these Japanese mora? I nearly die inside whenever I want to say, in Japanese, the words for dragon (りゅう) and a traditional Japanese B & B (りょかん), for example, without making what sounds like two separate syllables. Help, please!

  • http://twitter.com/Tany Fred

    Hey! I love your videos :) Anyway, I’m studying Japanese for a year and a half now and what I just read did help me a LOT! Before, I used to pronounce the ‘R’ sound like an plain, wrong, gaijin-ish ‘L’ sound. But now, my life is changed! :)

    Seriously for a French guy like me, the ‘R’ sound has always been a pain in the…well you know :)
    Thanks for helping. It worked! :)

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  • Srujanepter

    Your blog and technique is KICK-ASS!

  • Srujanpeter

    Your blog is THE BEST out there for learning Japanese. This language is so bloody awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001266841536 William Ricks

    It just sounded like D the whole time…

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  • shinkamalei

    Lol I came into this wondering if I was doing it right and sure enough I am!! <3 But I find this interesting because I've told my Japanese classmates the same things just in different words and a bit shorter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000881728367 ラバゴ ケビン

    WOOT for spanish speaker!

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  • Sebastien

    I don’t care, I’m French, I’m doing the Spanish and Italian rs for fun since ever like all the countrymen, by the time I was 3 I was probably able to do a nice “La Cucaracha ♬”.

    When I first heard the Japanese ら, I thought : “cool, almost like a Spanish r. This language is the most easy to pronounce ever, look, it only has the basic universal consonants.”

    bim !

  • Wesley_ml Nas

    The “Japanese R Sound” is actually called a trilled R and it’s common in a lot of languages, including Korean, Latin and other Romance Languages.

  • clubcoffee

    I really can’t do it. Can someone help?

  • http://profiles.google.com/anny.haruka Anny Figueira

    I’m brazilian and I guess this R is pretty easy for portuguese speakers, don’t know why. What’s funny is that I always had trouble to speak our “normal” R (is it common for kids to have this problem around there too?) and even now I can’t say it properly. 

    However, since the first time I’ve heard a japanese saying “R” I was able to do the same, and now I can speak relatively normal by mixing their way with the way I used before (which sounds more like a G or D, or even a blank space being unpronounced).

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  • Cormac Burt

    I’m still at a loss. I put my tongue in the exact same place when I pronounce both la and da. The only difference is, with da, more of my tongue is pressed up against the roof of my mouth. And when I just move my tongue a little farther back, it sounds something like hrah. *sigh* My mouth fails…

  • http://isitpossible.posterous.com/ 紗織

    It’s interesting, because whenever I pronounce the ら行 sounds when speaking Japanese to someone who’s not familiar with the language, they think I’m saying the “d” sound. My husband’s last name has that sound, so whenever someone asks me to pronounce it in Japanese, that’s when they think there’s a “d”. The first time someone said that, it really made me realize that the ら行 sound really isn’t a mix between “r” and “l”, but instead a mix between “d” and “l”. It’s just that Japanese born English learners confuse “r” and “l”. I do feel at times I place my tongue too forward, and it ends up sounding closer to a “d”.

    The hardest sound for me is ん + ら行. It’s become easier, but it took awhile to overcome, because I didn’t know how to physically transition from ん to ら行 properly.

    I would say that the ら行 sound has a bit more flexibility than you portrayed, according to what my husband has told me. You can actually pull your tongue back a little, creating more of that “r” sound. What makes it not an “r” sound is the absence of pursing your lips (which is what Japanese have a hard time of doing when pronouncing “r”, making it sound off).

  • http://isitpossible.posterous.com/ 紗織

    Oh, just to add to my last paragraph, even though there is a little flexibility, you still need to position your tongue in that spot between the “d” and the “l”. It’s just that you don’t need to press down. And, I’m not a linguist and neither is my husband. So, who knows, what I’m saying could be incorrect.

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    -Ah, soo-de su ka?
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  • Jen

    Japanese sounds aren’t that hard for me, luckily, because my native language (Tagalog/Filipino) has almost the same exact sounds as the Japanese sounds, only we don’t have the letter ‘z’, but we have the letter ‘l’. I liked your vid though, I enjoyed it. Very helpful. :)

  • Troy

    What about the Japanese “ga” sound? I don’t know if it’s just me but, every time I hear a Japanese person pronounce the g sounds it sounds a lot more like a na sound or a nga sound? It’s hard to describe but it sounds a lot softer and more nasally to me and I can’t imitate it very well. Does anyone else notice this or am I just crazy? I’ve only seen this brought up once before and never really got an answer.

  • Hen BanKeN

    this is fun xD my native language is spanish, so almost every japanese sound is easy to us. At least, this is the easy part of the language for spanish people…

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  • Darcy

    I decided to watch this to see if I was still pronouncing my R’s correctly. I picked up on proper R-sounds really quickly according to my high school Japanese teacher (she was originally from Japan) several years ago.
    In the first minute or so of the video I was like “yay, I’m still doing it right.” But after watching the exercises out of curiousity… I feel like I’m now thinking about it too much and it doesn’t come out right anymore :(

    (I don’t speak Spanish, but had plenty of exposure to it growing up. As well as an early introduction to subbed anime in elementary school when my brother was taking Japanese classes.)

  • Ghost

    Well I’ve been learning with other means for a little time now (Can’t afford textfugu sadly) And I thought I was making the R sound right…but you make it sound like a slightly off D that I can’t nail. I get close, but…Now I don’t know…I feel all discouraged =[

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.zanavich Elizabeth Cloudwalker

    Shoot me now. I’ll probably never pronounce ri, ra, re, ro, ru the right way.

  • Misty

    No, not the Lada! Those are terrible.

    To say the truth, I didn’t notice the difference between the way I pronounced Japanese “r” before and the way you do it. Which leaves me wondering what’s wrong with my English “r” pronunciation, if you say it’s different.

  • Eric

    Actually… My tongue is exactly where he says it needs to be for the English L and D. Maybe your accent is different, or… You seriously just suck at pronouncing your own language.

  • izanagi

    it’s not a “ra” sound. it’s a mix between the ra and la sound. when u make a “ra” sound, u sort of put the top 2 parts of your tongue at the back of your teeth ( try saying it urself, you’ll probably know what i mean) and with “L” sound, you put the tip of your tongue in front of your teeth and sort of bend your tongue so that it’s also touching the top of your mouth. IN JAPANESE you do these 2 things at the same time with ら, り, る, れ, and ろ