The French “R”: 3 Ways To Nail Pronunciation, With Audio and Resources
French is notorious for having some difficult-to-pronounce sounds.
The French “R” sound, in particular, is a tough one to master.
That’s because it’s quite unique to the French language—it’s different from the English rhotic “R” sound and the trilled “R” (also known as the “rolled R”) found in other European languages like Spanish, Italian and Russian.
You’ll soon have it down pat, though, since this post has everything you need to know about learning how to pronounce the “R” sound in French!
- How to Pronounce “R” in French!
- Words with the French “R” Sound
- Resources for Practicing the “R” in French
How to Pronounce “R” in French!
Fortunately, there’s more than one way to nail the pronunciation of “R” in French. Below, I’ll run you through three methods to do so, as well as how to pronounce it in different dialects.
The Approximation Method
With the Approximation Method, you may be able to “borrow” the French “R” from your native tongue! This is because it also has the guttural sound (sounds produced in the throat) found in other languages.
Keep in mind, however, that the “R” in French isn’t exactly the same as these sounds—that’s why it’s just an approximation.
- The French “R” sounds similar to the letter “g” in languages like Dutch and Afrikaans. In the case of French, however, the “R” sound is produced a little higher in the throat, so try to bring it up to the uvula.
- It can also be found in the Arabic kh and is similar to the German ch found in the middle of words like machen (to do/to make).
- Even English has a sound that’s quite close to the French “R!” It’s similar to what you hear at the end of the Scottish name Loch as in the Lochness Monster.
The “K” Method
Whether you speak another language or not, eventually you’ll want to step out of your comfort zone and start pronouncing the “R” exactly how it is in French.
There’s actually quite an easy way to do it—and it starts by basing it off the “K” sound in English!
The process is simple.
- Make the sound of the letter “K” as in the word “kick.” Say this word a couple of times and then slow it down.
- Take note of the spot in your throat where the two “K” sounds are made. This is the exact spot where the French “R” sound is produced. The “K” sound is made with a puff of air: when you produce this sound, there’s only a momentary constriction of the throat.
- Sustain that “K” sound over a longer period. Instead of only a momentary constriction, hold the “K” sound, letting the air out slowly and the back of the mouth vibrate. If you can’t get your throat to vibrate, tense the muscles in the area as you slowly release air. Once you’re vibrating at that spot, you’re producing the French “R” sound!
The Icky Method
Remember those times when you were sick with a head cold? You’d probably try to clear the back of your throat by horking the mucus (snorting the gunk up from the back of the throat) and then spitting it out.
As nasty as it sounds, that horking is the place where the “R” in French gets created.
But wait! Don’t go around spitting everywhere!
Aim for a softer sound than horking.
Try to get more of a steady vibration instead of a violent hack.
If this is too gross for you, you can also use snoring as a baseline for the sound.
How to Pronounce “R” in French Dialects
You’ve now learned how to pronounce “R” in Standard French—the most commonly taught dialect of French and the one you’re most likely to hear in mass media and major cities like Paris.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), there’s more than one way to pronounce the French “R” sound depending on the dialect or accent you’re using.
- In Northern France, the “R” sound is pronounced much lower in the throat, almost where the English “h” sound or Spanish “j” sound is.
- For older people in rural France, the “R” is pronounced like the trilled “R” in Spanish or Italian.
- In other French dialects, it takes on more of a trill (think of an Italian or Spanish “R” trilled but in the throat).
So why is this relevant to you when you’re likely studying Standard French pronunciation? Well, if you can’t pronounce “R” the way most native French speakers do, you can always adopt a regional accent!
Words with the French “R” Sound
Now that we know how to pronounce the “R” in French, let’s look at some words that use it.
Note that the “R” at the end of words ending in er isn’t pronounced. This er ending is pronounced as the ay in the English word “may.”
- Parler (to speak)
- Regarder (to watch)
- Rose (rose)
- Rue (road)
- Réunion (reunion)
- Rien (nothing)
- Travailler (to work)
- Entreprise (business)
- Département (department)
- Personne (person)
- Découvrir (to discover)
Resources for Practicing the “R” in French
In addition to a good French pronunciation guide, the best way to master the “R” in French is to get out there and practice it.
But before you book a trip to France, you may want to check out some French pronunciation tools on the internet first.
Here are a few:
Forvo helps you hear the pronunciation of any French word.
I recommend Forvo’s French audio dictionary. Simply search for a French word that contains an “R” to hear its pronunciation. This is particularly useful when trying to hear how the “R” in French is pronounced when combined with other consonants, as in the word crime (crime).
FluentU is a language learning program that uses authentic French videos like movie clips and music videos to create an immersive environment for learning the language.
By watching videos made by and for native speakers, you’ll be exposed to the sounds of French and become more accustomed to them. You can use the videos to try and mimic native speakers’ speech.
As you watch videos, you can hover over any word to see an in-context definition, brief information about the word’s grammar and tips on how to use it, among others. If you want to target your pronunciation skills to particular words, add them to your flashcard deck.
Simple-French.com offers quite a few recordings of the French “R” as well as exercises for you to practice on your own.
The exercises involve making several different sounds and words that use the letter “R.” Gradually, you get closer and closer to pronouncing it more accurately. You can check your pronunciation against the audio provided in each exercise.
If you’re serious about improving your French pronunciation, make it a goal to practice once a day until it’s second nature. Even if you got it right within the first few tries, repetition is what’ll help you truly master it.
YouTube is also a great place to practice the “R” in French. All you have to do is type in any keyword along the lines of “how to pronounce r in french” and the video-sharing platform should generate a number of relevant and interesting results.
The beauty of video is that, aside from the sound made, you can also see the way the speaker shapes their mouth to produce the sound. I suggest looking for the ones that teach not only pronunciation but also give out exercises to facilitate your language learning.
For example, Language City offers a short video explanation of the sound along with practice exercises.
Meanwhile, the University of Michigan includes a video about the French “R” sound in its series on French pronunciation.
Whew! At this point, you may want to grab a cup of lemon ginger tea to soothe your throat after practicing how to pronounce “R” in French so many times. I hope that mastering this particular letter will make you feel like all those cups of tea are worth it!