How To Pronounce The Japanese “R” Sound

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!

  • 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.

  • Flisabellan

    -Kore-wa pen-de su?-Iie, soo-de arimasen, sore-wa hon-de su.
    -Ah, soo-de su ka?
    -Hai, soo-de su!
    That’s pretty much everything I know…

  • 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…

  • RussiasSunflower13

    I’m Hispanic! Finally my Latina-ness (I am not proud of being Hispanic) comes in handy!!!!!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU VENEZUELA!

  • 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