Thursday, May 8, 2008

Trying to master the American r!

Many people find the American r to be one of the trickiest of sounds to master. The two most common issues are trilling or substituting a /w/ for the r. A trill is when you tap the tip of the tongue onto the bumpy ridge behind the teeth (called the alveolar ridge). The /w/ sound is created when the lips are slightly rounded and the tongue remains on the bottom of the mouth.

In either case there needs to be a change in the use of the muscle of the tongue. To facilitate this change we need to begin with some oral-motor exercises. This will help your tongue, which is a muscle, train for a whole new position. The new position is with the tongue retro flexed (or curled back) so the tongue tip is up off the bottom of the mouth and slightly curled toward the back of the mouth. So if you looked in a mirror you would see the bottom of your tongue.

Now the /r/ is what we call a semi-vowel, it is called this because the /r/ is used in writing as a consonant, but it is produced as a vowel. Vowels are produced by shaping only. Meaning that there is no obstruction or stopping of the air flow. The tongue will make no contact with any of the other parts of the mouth.

The /r/ is influenced and influences the vowels that are near it. So what will happen is that when /r/ is followed by an /I/ sound for example, then you will begin to produce the /I/ sound while the tongue is still retro flexed or curled back. Causing what is known as r-coloring of the vowel. This happens because the /r/ is a difficult position to get in and out of, so the two sounds end up interacting.

This is a tricky sound because in a mirror all you will really be able to see is the bottom of your tongue, and because for most ELL's it means re-training the tongue muscles.

Listen to the podcast for some quick exercises and practice. Just click on listen to this episode on the right of this post

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