The American “R” and How to Pronounce It

The First Most Common Mistake Non-Native English Speakers Make When Speaking English: Mispronouncing the American “r” and how to fix it?

Being a non-native English speaker and having an accent comes with its pros and cons. For example, having an accent is great because it helps us preserve our cultural identity and linguistic upbringing. It’s part of who we are and we should never be apologetic about it. But it can also cause miscommunication, low self-esteem, and frustration when having to repeat oneself. Everyone’s situation is different and very valid.

I decided to do a series on the most common mistakes that non-native speakers make, to help alleviate some of these frustrations when speaking English.

The first most common mistake that non-native English speakers make is mispronouncing the “r” sound. The “r” sound is very tricky in American English because of the way it can be pronounced. There are actually 21 different ways of pronouncing it. It gets tricky if you’re not used to pronouncing it the American way. If you’re used to pronouncing the trilled “r” in your native language, then chances are you’re mispronouncing the American “r”. My first language is Polish so this is the way I grew up pronouncing the “r”. It was difficult for me to learn to pronounce it the American way, but I did it and I know you can do it as well.

  • There are 21 different types of “r” in American English and that is not common in other languages. Some languages have one type of “r” or a few types of “r” like the trilled “r”, so speakers who do not speak English natively will often try to pronounce the American “r” the same way they would in their native language and that’s when mispronunciation happens.
  • “r” is always pronounced in American English vs “r” is only pronounced in British/Australian English when it is followed by a vowel sound. If you learned British or Australian English in school, chances are you learned a different rule for pronouncing the “r”.
  • The sound is made by bringing the tongue up and to the back of the mouth
  • The bulk of the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth between the hard palate and soft palate
  • The tip of the tongue hovers just below the hard palate
  • The sound is voiced
  • The sound that /r/ produces comes from the vibration of the speaker’s vocal cords.

If you feel like the American “r” is hard to pronounce, you’re not alone. It’s one of the most common mistakes non-native speakers make, because of its complexity. It’s very difficult to pronounce it initially with the American accent because you have to retrain your tongue and your mouth muscles to move in a different way than what you’ve been used to for most of your life. Don’t worry, as long as you apply yourself and practice frequently, you can fix this error.

Click here to watch my YouTube video to practice pronouncing the “r” sound with me. 

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Want to learn more about pronunciation? Listen to this podcast episode:

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