How do you pronounce the Japanese "r"? Is it more like an "l" or something inbetween? Would there be any picture or video explaining it correctly, please link it!

  • yea i've always thought of this myself.. its hard to understand just by words.. if only someone had a video to teach us on pronouncing it.. – Pacerier Jun 16 '11 at 16:02
  • I agree. I'm completely stumped. There's lots of pointless material online that doesn't describe accurately how to pronounce it, or videos telling you things that are not clear. A cross-section of a mouth would really help (for instance). This is surely something which is carefully documented somewhere, but I can't find it. – Francis Davey Mar 14 '18 at 16:16

The sound that's transcribed in Romaji as 'r' is what's refered to in phonetics as an alveolar flap (or alveolar tap). It's a sound made by quickly tapping the tip of your tongue on the alveolar ridge (the same place you use to pronounce sounds like 't' or 'l') and to native American English ears sounds somewhere between an 'r' and an 'l'.

If you are an American English native speaker, you probably already make this sound when speaking your own language. It's what's the double-t is pronounced as in "better", for example.

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  • "…the double-t is pronounced as in 'better'…" I've never thought of it that way, but now that you mention it, the two feel really close. That's an interesting angle from which to attack this sound. – Derek Schaab Jun 15 '11 at 13:10
  • I think the sound has a slight "thud" to it that softens the sharpness of 'tt' in 'better', making it feel closer to, or maybe a cross between, 'tt' and 'd'. – jrista Jun 16 '11 at 5:20
  • does 'r' in romaji even sound like 'r' in english? I always thought it sounded 90% 'l'.. – Pacerier Jun 16 '11 at 16:01
  • Interesting; I would never consider the double-t in "better" as sounding even remotely close to an 'l'. – Adrian Petrescu Jun 17 '11 at 5:13
  • I agree, it's between L and R in terms of tongue placement, but sounds almost like a D to some. – crunchyt Jun 17 '11 at 15:16

I pronounce it as a singular Spanish 'r'. If you can pronounce Spanish, this will help you. If not, it probably won't. Although I've often described it as close to a 't' or 'd' sounds (as @oren Ronen mentioned with 'better').

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    I asked my Japanese friend here and since we're also both Spanish speakers we agreed the Japanese r was like a Spanish r without the trill. – hippietrail Jun 15 '11 at 15:10
  • +1 for spanish 'r' (more familiar to me than the 'tt' in 'better' for americans, and thinking about it, it doesn't seem quite correct) – repecmps Jun 15 '11 at 15:55
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    If you say "bada" (as in "bada bing, bada boom"), it's the same way you'd pronounce バラ (rose). – istrasci Jun 15 '11 at 16:52
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    I agree with it sounding close to D, which is not something you often see in textbooks or taught by teachers. But it should be remembered if you want to sound more authentic. – Garrett Albright Jun 17 '11 at 1:06

It's in between the English "l" and "r" sounds. Make a "l" sound, but sweep the tip of your tongue back without letting it touch your hard palate.

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Tofugu video I've used.

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  • gosh that's actually pretty gd – Pacerier Jun 25 '11 at 12:28

This is the best video I’ve found about pronouncing the Japanese r. It describes it as the sound between d and l, and has lots of diagrams about where your tongue should be when you say these different sounds.

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I found a video which shows a shadow of the tongue position when a native speaker uses ra etc. There is also some assistance using a Canadian English dialect which may add value.

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