“How does your throat feel?”
Wait a second… what does that have to do with French?
It’s not a typical question to ask unless someone has a cold, but when it comes to learning French, you might find you’ve wound up with a sore throat unexpectedly.
“Why?” you might ask.
Well, French is notorious for having some difficult-to-pronounce sounds.
But what sound, in particular, gives you a peculiar scratch in the throat?
Why, it’s the French “R” sound, of course!
This sound is perhaps the trickiest point of pronunciation for French learners.
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.
Tips and Resources for Practicing the “R” in French
In addition to a good French pronunciation guide, the best way to master the French “R” sound is to get out there and practice it. But before you book a trip to France, let me deliver some fantastic news—the best place to find French pronunciation tools is the internet!
Use Forvo to Hear the Pronunciation of Any French Word
The key to making the French “R” sound accurately is hearing it clearly and listening to it in authentic audio recorded by native speakers.
For this, I recommend Forvo’s 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.)
Practice Pronunciation While Learning Vocabulary with FluentU
Do you like learning French with videos?
If so, FluentU uses the internet’s best videos to teach French and has over 3,700 words and phrases showcasing the French “R.”
But FluentU goes far beyond pronunciation.
FluentU’s French video library contains thousands of authentic videos that native French speakers enjoy. Each video comes with interactive subtitles, so you can learn vocabulary and grammar while enjoying media like music videos, movie trailers, news clips, inspiring talks and more.
Simply click on a word in the subtitles to see its meaning, pronunciation and example sentences!
Plus, FluentU has a built-in video dictionary. Yes, you can search up any word in French and find related videos that use the word in context!
Finally, you’ll retain everything you learn thanks to FluentU’s SRS (spaced repetition software) flashcards and self-quizzes at the end of each video lesson.
Ready to trade in your dusty textbooks for popular French videos on the internet? Get started now by signing up for a free trial!
Practice with Online Exercises from Simple-French.com
Exercises for practicing the French “R” are also a must! Simple-French.com offers quite a few recordings of the sound 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. To check your pronunciation, each exercise also includes audio.
If you’re serious about improving your French pronunciation, make it a goal to practice once a day until it’s become second nature. Even if you got it right within the first few tries, repetition is what’ll help you truly master it.
Watch YouTube Videos About the “R” in French
YouTube is also a great place to practice the “R” in French. Language City offers a short video explanation of the sound along with practice exercises and the University of Michigan includes a video about the French “R” sound in their series on French pronunciation.
Get the Ball Rrrrolling: How to Pronounce “R” in French!
Get your glass of water prepared! All of this practicing the French “R” can make your throat pretty dry.
The Approximation Method
Speak another language? You might be in luck.
With the Approximation Method, you can “borrow” the French “R” from other languages that have similar sounds!
This is because the French “R” sound is very similar to the guttural sound (sounds produced in the throat) found in other languages. Keep in mind, however, that the French “R” sound isn’t exactly the same as these sounds—that’s why it’s just an approximation.
For example, the French “R” sounds similar to the pronunciation of 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.
The French “R” sound 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 the sound at the end of the Scottish name Loch as in the Lochness Monster.
By using your knowledge of another language as a base for the French “R,” you’re making fairly accurate substitutions for the tricky sound.
Plus, with these sounds as a base, you can fine-tune your pronunciation further.
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.
And surprisingly, 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. First, make the sound of the letter “K” as in the word “kick.” Say this word a couple of times and then slow it down.
As you’re saying the word slowly, 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.
What’s the difference between the “K” sound and the “R” sound, then?
Well, the “K” sound is made with a puff of air: when you produce this sound, there’s only a momentary constriction of the throat.
For the French “R” sound, we need to sustain that “K” sound over a longer period of time.
Instead of there only being a momentary constriction, hold the “K” sound, letting the air out slowly and letting 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
If the Approximation and “K” Methods aren’t working, there’s still hope!
However, be warned: this method is a little gross!
You might’ve already made the French “R” sound a few times in your life unknowingly.
When sick with a head cold, it’s common to clear the back of the throat of mucus. Oftentimes, we do so 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 French “R” sound gets created.
But wait! Don’t go around spitting everywhere!
Aim for a softer sound than horking.
You should attempt to get more of a steady vibration instead of a violent hack.
If this is too gross for you, you can 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, but this sound can be quite the chameleon!
In fact, the French “R” sound isn’t pronounced the same in all dialects or accents of French.
The pronunciation of the “R” sound in this post is what’s typically heard in the Parisian dialect of French that informs Standard French. Standard French is what’s heard in the media and most major cities. It’s also the most commonly taught dialect of French.
In Northern France, however, 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.
But it also takes on more of a trill in other French dialects, too (think of an Italian or Spanish “R” trilled but in the throat).
Why is this good news for you?
Well, if you can’t pronounce the French “R” as it’s said in Standard French, you can always adopt a regional accent!
Let’s Practice! 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. Click on the link to hear their pronunciations!
Note, however, that the “R” at the end of words ending in er—such as in the verb parler (to speak)—is not pronounced. This er ending is pronounced as the ay in the English word “may.”
Whew! Can I get a mug of lemon ginger tea? My throat is pretty raw after practicing how to pronounce “R” in French!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn French with real-world videos.