The French R pronunciation is softer than you may think… it sounds kind of like a cat purring, which in French goes “rrrron-rrrron-rrrron”!
This free French lesson features audio recordings. Please click the blue text next to the headphone to hear me say that word in French, or click on the audio player.
How To Pronounce A Perfect French R
Pronouncing the French R sound is simpler than you think: here is how to do it in three easy steps.
- Stick your whole tongue to the top of your mouth.
This preparation step is very important: concentrate and take your time to press your tongue, back to front, to the roof of your mouth.
- Lower only the tip of your tongue and press it hard against the back of your LOWER front teeth.
The back of the tongue is still pressed to the roof of your mouth.
- Open your mouth and create a vibration in your throat, where you say the G of “get” in English.
Look for the vibration which happens in your throat with your tongue in this position.
That’s how you’ll pronounce a perfect French R.
Your tongue is going to make like a curvy slide as you can see on the exaggerated picture I drew to illustrate this lesson.
French R Audio Practice
Now that you understand the tongue position, you need to practice.
Let’s start by drilling sounds starting with the French R.
Place your tongue as described above, then repeat after me:
And now let’s drill on sound combo ending on a R.
It’s OK if you don’t get it right away. Producing the French R can be challenging because placing your tongue in that position is not natural to many of you. Yet training will do it. You’ll end up finding a comfortable way to place your tongue and make a French R sound.
French R Vs English R
With the letter R existing in the French and English languages, it may be interesting to see how the R pronunciation differs between French and English. And analyze the tongue position.
In English, the tongue tip curls up and goes close to the upper front teeth: visualize your tongue as you say: “red, anger”.
In French, it’s the contrary: the tip of the tongue stays down, close to the lower teeth, and it’s the back of the tongue that goes up, partially blocking the air way, and vibrating a bit.
Trick To Find The French R Sound
To some of you, understanding then mimicking the tongue position will unlock the French R pronunciation. If it’s still a challenge, try this trick:
As you are gargling, go place the tip of your tongue behind your lower teeth, and keep pushing the air out. Pressing your tongue will stop the gargling, and a vibration will continue in the back of your mouth, just where the throat begins.
Training does it. Understand how to form all the French sounds and train with drills so they become easy for you with my audiobook audiobook Secrets of French pronunciation.
French R Vs Spanish R
Some of you may be familiar with the Spanish R. Let’s see how the French R and Spanish R pronunciations differ.
The French R sound is produced at the back of the mouth, where you’ll pronounce the G of “get” in English.
In France, the French R is never the Spanish rolled R, nor is it the very guttural Spanish J as in Jesus.
Some methods say the French R is like what you do when you want to spit on the ground (how charming…). I don’t agree though. It may sound this way if you push the sound really hard, but in reality, it’s much softer. It’s much more like a cat purr. The sound really comes from the upper throat, not the lower throat.
Various French R Pronunciations
My French R is pretty smooth, and most of the time almost silent in the middle of a word. Don’t forget that vowels are louder than consonants in French! Let’s take “Paris” for example: can you hear the R? It’s not that strong…
Yet, there are many variation possible.
The pronunciation of the French R varies a lot according to French speaking regions and countries.
For example, many French speaking countries in Africa roll their French R. It’s not unlikely to hear a rolled French R in French speaking Canada.
In the North of France, the French R tends to be stronger, as it is the case in French speaking Belgium. You may know that French singer Edith Piaf or Stromae pronounce their R quite strongly.
A Rolled R in France Today?
Even though the French R will not roll as strongly as the Spanish R, in old French, the R was rolled. According to Wikipedia, the pronunciation of the French R started to change in the 17th century in the major towns and lived on in the countryside until the 19th century.
However, a rolled French R survived in the South-West of France (Occitanie) where the regional language, l’Occitan, used a rolled R. Older folks for whom l’Occitan was part of their daily language may still roll their Rs in French nowadays, and this pronunciation may have affected the overall accent of this region.
French R Combinations
The position of your tongue will vary according to the letters you pronounce with the French R, and their order.
I could describe exactly the various French R tongue positions, but I think this would be too much info. There’s the theory, and then there’s practice: and that’s where the mimicking part comes into action! Now that you know the right tongue position to form the French R sound, you need to practice repeating different French words featuring the French R with audio.
If you enjoy learning French language and culture in context, check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided French pronunciation.