R (French)

Please be mindful of the fact that all the French sounds are produced with greater facial, throat and other phonatory muscle tension than any English sound.

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The French [r], the crown of the French sound system, is normally pronounced as a voiced [R] sound before a vowel or a voiceless [r] mostly after a vowel or a consonant. There is no similar sound in the English stock so the learner has to make a conscious/delibarate effort to learn to say it.
The Myth.
A widely held myth claims that no matter how proficient one becomes in French, one does not speak French "properly" until one learns to pronounce the French [R] sound "properly".
What is the "proper" french [R]?
The Standard Parisian pronunciation of the [R] which is promoted beyond the native French circles appears to be the sought-after variant of [R] by the officialdom of the Académie Française, the highest authority in French language matters, even though there exists a host of dialectal versions; ones ( Southern and South-Eastern dialects) that resemble a kind of Italian [r], whilst others (North and North-Eastern dialects) that might resemble a German [r].
Well, since the educational and institutional will desires the Standard Parisian norm, that's what we going to study more closely here.
How do you produce the 'proper" French [R]?
1. The tip of the tongue must be tucked behind the lower front teeth while the rest of the tongue is arched and lifted towards the soft back end ( the soft palate) of the roof of the mouth. This will force the airflow to be pinpointed at the uvula ( the hanging little-finger-size soft end of the palate). No freeze the tongue; do not let up the tip of it or else you will end up with the Burgundy style French [r] and we do not want that, you remember !?
2. Tense up the throat muscles, so that the air flow becomes an air jet.
3. That air jet hits the UVULA and under the heavy pressure it flaps it 4 or 5 times.
4. Now you have produced the "chic", "proper" and Standard Parisian French [R] sound. Voilà ! C'est simple, n'est-ce pas?
The Simple Way
1. Tuck away the tip of your tongue behind the lower front teeth. Do not move it from there. This is the secrect for the "proper" French [R] sound.
2. Imagine that a piece of hair got stuck on your UVULA (see above). You must feel a strong urge to clear it BUT at the same time keep the tip of your tongue behind the lower front teeth.
3. The only way to get rid of the hair is by trying to expulse it by applying jet strength air drafts at the UVULA. That should produce the desired effects; that is the French [R] sound.
Just Another Trick
Since the French [R] sound is produced so far deep back in the throat, it can be much more confortably generated in the company of another sound whose location is nearby. What a smart idea isn't it? Effectively, the [g] and [k] sounds are throat sounds, so let's invent strings of words that satisfy our criteria.
·First a few words that carry the [gr] cluster in word initial position and before a vowel:  

·Secondly try the French [R] sound in the company of [k] and still before a vowel:  
·Thirdly adventure into using other consonants as company: and  
·Finally play with the French [R] sound inside words and in word boundaries.  

The sound's written representations are : R r

R - (voiced before vowel) -
as in ALL the above examples

r - (voiceless after a vowel or a consonant) - as in NOTE that it is pronounced in word final position just like the [ l ]

·BUT in the -er ending of the verbs  
and the -er ending of the adjectives the [r] is not pronounced and so the -er ending is pronounced almost as the [a] in the English word cake but much more closed.


Copyright 2002 AntWise

Frank ANTAL 

Page updated 04/07/02 Brisbane Queensland Australia