When I first learned the Japanese R, I thought it kinda sounded like an L, although not exactly. I was able to replicate that unique sound with a mindset that the Japanese R sounds like a “flicked L.”

However, when I was searching for ways to improve upon my pronunciation, I often read that the Japanese R sounds exactly like the English flap t, or the “tt” in “butter.” At least in American English.

This honestly confused me. I won’t deny that they sound pretty similar. Might even be the same exact sound. But, the mentality for me is completely different.

Whenever I make a Japanese R, I am mentally thinking of its L-like quality.

Whenever I say the word “butter”, I am mentally thinking of a “d” sound as if it’s “budder.”

Basically, saying “taro” and “tado” has a different mouth feel for me. Or “haru” vs “hadu”.

I’m just curious if there might be a slight difference between the English double tt and the Japanese R because they clearly “feel” different to me. Or do you think this is a mentality problem because my native language is English?

  • 2
    Does this answer your question? R sound vs L sound Jun 28 '20 at 3:37
  • I've always thought it's essentially the same sound, myself, and have sometimes used it to illustrate how to say it, to English speakers. I think this also explains プリン in Japanese for English pudding, and also why the Japanese "r" sound, after an ん, takes on a decidedly harder "d"-like sound (but still not the same one as e.g. だ). Jun 28 '20 at 4:58
  • The main problem I have with using "butter' to illustrate the Japanese "r" sound, though, is that it's a little awkward to use an unstressed syllable with a schwa vowel to illustrate anything. That and the fact that not all English speakers pronounce "butter" in that way. Jun 28 '20 at 4:59
  • If I understand correctly, the latter half of snailplane's answer to the post I linked is a perfect match to your question here. If you still have something unclear, you can elaborate your answer. Jul 1 '20 at 6:59
  • I feel like the post was just comparing the Japanese R to an English L. I wanted to compare the difference between a Japanese R (central tap) and the English flap t if there is a difference at all. Whenever I say the word “butter”, I think of a d sound for the doubt tt. I never really thought of the Japanese R sound. But as I said, it is probably because of my bias as an English native speaker. Jul 2 '20 at 9:10

I consider the R- sound and the "tt" (or "dd") sounds from your example of "butter" to be completely different. I can't substitute the R- sound into "butter" - creating an abominable word in the process - and have it sound close enough to "butter" without confusing people at the supermarket.

I find the best way to think about the R- sound is by comparing it to the sound made when Rs are rolled. Italians don't say "pizzeria" with the same R as you'd hear in a word like "rotate", nor do they rev up the roller and extend it - it is much more clipped and sounds like the R has been rolled, but stopped after only a single "cycle" of rolling. Of course, if you can't roll your Rs, this becomes much harder to test – but I suspect if you can't roll Rs then the R-sound would escape you too!

Example: Here's a somewhat low-quality sound of an Italian pronunciation of "pizzeria". You may hear the quick turn at the R sound.

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