French “R” Sound Pronunciation Practice

distinctive sound of the French language. It gives satisfaction to those who can pronounce it effortlessly and nightmares to those who can't. 

Even if your speach is fluent, that is you understand and you speak without efforts, there might still be some slight differences in the way you pronounce certain French sounds.

Normally, anyone knowing that you are a foreigner won't point those out, but it is indispensable if you want your French to be impeccable. You will also avoid some sarcastic remarks from time to time.

Here is the first of a list of 3 groups of French sounds that give you away as a foreigner and the ways how to improve them. In this post we will harness the French "R" [ɛʀ]. 

If you are really determined to master the French "R" sound, check out my ebook Master the French R Sound 

Master the French R in Sentences
Click the Image

How to produce the French "R" sound ? 

diagram_uvula
Uvula (french-linguistics.co.uk)

It is a sound that is produced in your throat.

What you should do is to gurgle as if you were cleaning your throat, or trying to scratch your itching pallet with the compressed air coming from your lungs.

The French "R" sound is what the specialist call a uvular fricative.

You need to have the feeling that the back of your pallet is working slightly and your tongue should stay motionless.

It is very close to the sound of snoring on exhalation (when you breath out). You can try this out.

It is very easy to inhale the air and make the palet vibrate. It is slightly more difficult to do the same on exhalation, but this is where you will find your French "R".    

Of course, this is only an approximation ! Your gurgled "R" will sound a bit artificial and forced at the beginning.

To pronounce the French "R" correctly, you will have to practice it a bit to make it smooth

You should not worry too much about pronouncing it correctly, as in the real speech you don't pay that much attention to one particular sound.

That is also the secret of mastering this particular sound. Many learners of French commit the mistake, quite naturally, to push it a bit too far.

They overdo it and it makes them sound weird. This kind of behaviour is quite normal.

That's why some of the learners give the whole thing up and either pronounce the "r" as the would in their native language (à l'américaine (the English style) ou à la russe (the Spanish style) , or they keep overdoing it. The solution lies, as usual, in between.  

The types of "R"

You also need to know that the French "R" does not always sound the same way. Sometimes it is more or less audible. It may depend on such things like:

  • the speaker,
  • the speed of speech,
  • the place of the sound in relation to other syllables in the sentence,
  • stress that the speaker puts on that particular sound or others
  • or other things that I am not clever enough to enumerate …

But you don't need to analyse all that in your speech, it is just good to know. With a bit of practice you will come to the same conclusion.

You might hear some of the French People make a trilling "R" with their uvula (like the one you can hear in the songs of Charles Aznavour or George Brassens).

This is not the reference however and most of the French people don't speak like that.

How to practice the French "R" ?

In order to have an impeccable French "R" pronunciation, you must speak French and listen to a lot of French all the time ! Yeah, right….

That would take ages and would cost you a lot of frustration along the way !

In order to improve a particular aspect of something, you need to make a conscious and concentrated effort over a given period of time to accelerate its improvement. 

In our case, you need to focus on that particular aspect of the French pronunciation (that is the French R sound), exhaust your muscles (yes, your mouth and throat have muscles too !), by repeating the sound in exercises, exaggerating it even, and then smooth it out in speech.

Exercise 1

Do you remember that gurgling  and snoring I told you about ? You take it and you repeat it continuously with all of the French vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u). You start slowly.

With some practice you can make it faster so you can produce that uvular fricative "r" sound effortlessly.

  • ra ra ra
  • re re re
  • ré ré ré
  • ri ri ri 
  • ro ro ro
  • ru ru ru 

Exercise 2

With nasal vowels as with an, in, un, on.

In this exercise not only will you practice your French R sound but you will also practice the other distinctive French sounds, that is the nasal vowels like an [ã], in [ɛ̃], and on [õ]

  • an [ã] : grand, franc, ranger
  • in [ɛ̃] : brin, fringues, ringard
  • on [õ] : rond, front, gronder

Try to do that exercise whenever you have time (in a car, in the elevator, in your shower, etc). Once a day for a minute for one week would be perfect.

Exercise 3

The other trick is to practice with words. The ones below will really muscle your vocal apparatus. Some of them can be really hard.

They will not only make you work your French "R", but also some other important sounds associated with o, e, é, er, an, u. 

  • rajouter, râler, racorder
  • regarder, recevoir, redire
  • répéter, réussir, récupérer
  • rire, ricaner, riche
  • robert, robinet, romantique 
  • rural, rustique, russe

Get all of the audio files for the exercises for 1 € only !

Buy the ebook: "Master the French R Sound"

Do you want to take your French pronunciation to a higher, native like level ? Here is how !

Master the French R eBook

Example page French R

Conclusion

The best advice I can give you as a conclusion is to work hard your exercises, exaggerate the sounds while practicing them and not to worry too much about it in the actual speech.

In fact, forget it is there and that it doesn't sound very "RRR" like the real French "r".

If you concentrate too much on pronouncing the French "R" correctly, not only will it sound strange but it will also wear you out, make your speech less fluent and natural and you will feel quickly exhausted.

That's right, speaking a foreign language is kind of a strain for your brain (though beneficial and giving lots of satisfaction) so you'd better take it easy concentrate of the fun part.

Should you have any suggestions concerning how to pronounce and improve the French "R", share it with me in the comments !

 

Resilience, brain workout and foreign language learning

brain, resilience in foreign language learning

The way resilience and the foreign language acquisition are connected is pretty straightforward. If we are to believe two renowned scientists, one a psychiatrist, the other a neuroscientist, in a recent article in TIME magazine (June 1, 2015), different people have different degrees of resilience. You may ask: so what ? This might explain why some people think they are bad language learners. Not without a reason. Simply, the resilience in that particular psycho-sociological case is not the same for everyone.

What the heck is resilience?

Well, according to the American Psychology Association, it is the individual’s ability to “bounce back”, or “to pick oneself up” after hardships or difficult situations experienced in life. It generally refers to pretty traumatic things (catastrophes or war experiences for example), but according to the TIME article “The Art of Resilience” people’s lives, especially nowadays, comprise of multiple small but stressful situations, and those are quite obvious: work, an angry boss, quarrels with other people. The key thing here however is that the brain can be trained in order to cope with these kind of situations, and even the big ones, better. In other words, the resilience, and that is your brain, can be trained to do that well. Or at least do better than it used to.

Some conspicuous extreme examples of weak / strong resilience and how different people react to it are: people suffering from heart disease and brain disorder, Alzheimer’s disease frequently, on the one side, and Navy SEALs, highly trained US soldiers, or POWs on the other.

brain, resilience in foreign language learning
Brain. Allan Ajifo, Flickr.

How does resilience refer to Language Learning?

If we are to apply the way the resilience works and how different people deal with it, it becomes clear why some people (referring only to adult learners in this case) are better foreign language speakers than others. It comes down to the person’s psychological response to a psycho-social stages of development in foreign language acquisition while learning and especially interacting in that new language. Some of those experiences can be more traumatic than others and thus influence the individual’s resilience accordingly.

To make it simple: here are some psychological factors that may deter from effective language learning:

 fear of being ridiculous: at the early stages, learning involves saying some unexpected and funny things.

 fear of being ridiculed: perception by other learners or native speakers, traumatic experience)

lack of control: some people might be scared at the idea of not being able to express everything they want. It may be psychologically interrelated with the two previous concepts.  

language inferiority: when an adult learner starts to learn a language, she/he doesn’t even speak as well as a 4 year old child. It might be quite frustrating. 

How can you improve your resilience ?

The good news is that resilience can be trained almost the same way the muscles are trained: you give your brain some stimulus at the right time and at the right places and thus progressively build up the brain’s strength (or resistance) to fight off more efficiently the traumatic and unpleasant emotional experiences. On the side note, the physical exercise increases brain’s resilience too in its own way.

The article gives several interesting and simple things that help developing resilience. Here are some of them that I find also easily applicable to a better language learning:

Developing a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake

Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened

Don’t run from things that scare you: face them

Learn new things as often as you can

Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to

Recognize what makes you uniquely strong – and own it

That set of tools could be particularly useful in a successful language acquisition. It can also be seen as what people don’t do and thus fail in acquiring the language or at being a successful foreign language speaker. All of them equally important but the most frequent, in my opinion, are:

a consistent, well defined and interesting foreign language exercise regimen to stick to

recognizing what your unique strength is,

and running away from problems and challenges.

This also proves several interesting points about language learning :

  • foreign language acquisition can be trained in a similar way the body is trained (but how and in what way, it is a different story): it accounts for 50% of successful language learner
  • psychology and personality of the individual: they make up the other 50 %.

The sum of both gives a truly individual result, superiour to the sum of the both parts. You may take a look at the study case I did on Arnold Schwarzenegger (to be published ) as an adult foreign language learner to get an example of how it looks in practice. 

Lesson 1: Introduce Yourself

Learn how to introduce yourself in French, tell your name, your age and where you are from. You will also see how to ask simple questions in French, basic French conjugation, the verb to be (être), to have (avoir), to be called (s'appeler) and you will discover names of different nationalities in French. You will also have your first lesson on French phonetics: how to correctly pronounce je, j'ai, tu and d'où.

1. Dialogue : Je m’appelle … .

Comment t’appelles-tu ?
– Je m’appelle José.
Es-tu espagnol ?
– Oui, je suis espagnol. Je viens de Barcelone.
Quel âge as-tu ?
– J’ai 21 ans. Et toi ?
Moi, je m’appelle Julien, j’ai 25 ans et je suis français.
Je viens de Bordeaux.


 

2. Notes

Comments on French grammar, vocabulary, phonetics.

Grammar: Basic Conjugation
Grammar: Asking Questions
Dialogue Vocabulary
Additional Vocabulary

3. Exercise: Translate into French

Click to show the explanation of the exercise
1. What's your name ?
?
2. My name's José.
José.
3. Are you Spanish ?
?
4. Yes, I'm Spanish.
Oui, .
5. I come from Barcelone.
.
6. How old are you ?
?
7. I'm 21 years old. And you ?
. Et toi ?
8. My name is Julien.
Julien.
9. I'm 25 (years old).
ans.
10. I'm French.
.
11. I come from Bordeaux.
.

4. Homework

  1. Read the dialogue aloud 3 times. Do it slowly, be careful with your pronunciation. You need to feel your facial and tongue muscles work. This will do miracles to your pronunciation and will make your speech more automatic and fluent.
  2. Basing yourself on the dialogue from this lesson, answer the following questions (your name, age, origin). Look up in a dictionary the words you don't know. Record your answers, upload to SoundCloud and drop you answer in the comment section !

     

    1. Comment t'appelles-tu ?
    2. Quel âge as-tu ?
    3. D'où viens-tu ?
    4. Quelle est ta nationalité ?