The American English R-sound is different from the R-sound of most languages in the world. Many students of English feel that it is more like a vowel than a consonant, and there is good reason for this. R is different from the other consonants of English because there is no point of contact – the tip of the tongue does touch the top of the mouth. The tongue is actually used in a vowel-like way to produce the R-sound.
How to make the R-sound
Different native speakers seem to make the R-sound in slightly different ways, so you may see different kinds of explanations in different ESL or pronunciation books. However, there are a few basic features that are always the same:
1. R is more similar to pronouncing a vowel than a consonant.
2. The tip of the tongue should NOT touch the roof of the mouth.
3. There is a lot of tension in the tongue.
4. The lips are slightly rounded.
So, here is how I coach students to make the R-sound:
Step 1. The tongue should start out low in the mouth, like saying “ah”
Step 2. While keeping the tongue down, pull the front part of the tongue back a bit. The tongue should be quite tense, tightly contracted. (But try to keep your jaw relaxed!)
Step 3. Also round the lips a little bit – about half as much as for the O-sound.
Some other points:
If the sides of your tongue touch the back upper teeth – that’s ok.
Or, if the tip of your tongue seems to be turned back – that’s also ok.
Have fun with R!