How to finally master the guttural r (in French, German, Portuguese, Dutch, … )

Disclaimer: This post is not for the fainthearted.

The guttural r is this nasty greasy sound that seems so weird to foreigners. You find it in French, German, Dutch, and Portuguese, among others.

The goal of this post is NOT to make you sound like a native speaker of your target language.

The goal of this post is to show you how to reduce your accent so that you don’t struggle to communicate.

 

Spit your way to fluency

The guttural r comes from the throat. It’s produced by air creating friction while getting out.

To understand the concept pretend you’re spitting. Pretend you have something in your throat you’re trying to get out.

Exaggerate, exaggerate, and exaggerate! It’s nasty but that’s how you will master the guttural r.

Once you understand the mechanism, do the same exercise more lightly. Practice saying simple words, like très (pronounced trè) and trop (pronounced tro) in French.

Again: Exaggerate! tRRRRRRRè, tRRRRRRRRo. Intensify the sound r. And then make it as quiet as possible. Be playful. Be foolish.

Practice 5-10 min a day for several days in a row to get it right.

 

There are often several kinds of r’s when you learn a language with a guttural r. Here’s another one:

 

The uvular trill

You make this sound by pushing air through your uvula (see the little thing hanging from the back of your mouth?). The thing here is to correctly direct the airflow to make the uvula vibrate. You may get it right the first time you try. Or not.

Here’s an exercise to help you practice: Put water in your mouth, and keep it here. Throw your head back, and open your mouth. Push air out (without drinking water!!).

It’s not exactly the same sensation as a uvular trill, but it gives you a similar feeling.

 

“But how can I tell the difference between the r’s?!”

Listen, listen, and listen.

Repeat, repeat, and repeat.

Record yourself. Get feedback from a native speaker.

And relax. If you can only hear/master one kind of guttural r, you’re already ahead of 99% of the people learning your target language.

 

It may be an arduous process. But keep going. Never give up. You’re going to meet Lady Frustration, for sure! So expect disappointment, expect to struggle.

And when you’re frustrated: Move on. Keep pushing. Take a rest, if necessary. And get back to it.

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