Accent Reduction For Professionals (2015)
Chapter 5: Learning about the “R” Sound: It’s Trickier than you Think
It’s called the hard “r” sound and it’s hard in more ways than one. In fact, this sound is even a bit difficult for many native English speakers to conquer. I mentioned in the introduction. I spent at least one year in speech therapy in an attempt to learn the proper pronunciation of that sound.
I eventually conquered the sound, but to this day, if I’m tired, I’ll mispronounce it.
Even though it may be tough, many instructors of English feel that the “r” sound is the “most important aspect of the American accent.” No pressure here, now is there, to get this right?
You might also be interested in knowing that the hard American “r” is actually the only “r” worldwide that is distinctly considered a true hard sound. Yes, the Irish sound “aaR” comes in a close second.
In order to make this sound correctly, you’ll move the tip of your tongue toward the back of your mouth, pointing it backwards and flex it.
The hard sound comes in three varieties: or, ar, and air.
We’ll tackle the “or” sound first. Keep in mind, though, that if you can pronounce one, you’ll eventually be able to pronounce all three. Just don’t get discouraged. You’ll also want to always keep in mind learning how to pronounce the “r” properly will go a long way toward reducing your accent.
Here are just a few examples of words with that “or” sound: floor, for, fork, order, ordinary, force, and remorse.
Of course, this is English so you can bet your bottom dollar that there are exceptions to this variety of spelling. Just a few of these include word, worm work, world and worst. Another variety of pronunciation can be heard in English as well, which is the “ore” sound. A few good examples of these include before, restored, more and shore.
Surprisingly, the same sound is often found in words spelled with the letter “a.” Consider the words – all of these sounds, you’ll notice follow the letter “w.” These words include: swarm, war, warn, toward, and warrior.
Notice the difference, however, when the “e” follows the “war” sound as in warehouse, hardware and stare.
Yes, this can be a bit confusing. But as you study it more, it’ll become second nature to you. The following sentences will all have the hard “r” sound in at least word. If you practice, you will conquer it. Guaranteed.
He placed his order with his server.
This is a world of disorder.
Many interpretations were explored in this book.
The four of them were searching for the fork.
The building looked ordinary.
We have restored the floor to its original elegance.
The corners of his mouth twitched.
May the force be with you.
Checking out the “ar” Sound
The sound of “ar” is produced, for the most part, when the combination of “a” and “r” are spoken together with no “e.” Some of these words are quite simple, including: car, bar, far, Mars, darn, large, dark, arm, smart and remark.
Just when you think you may have found a pattern, the fact that you’re studying English hits you square in the face. Here are a few words that are exceptions to the rule: backward, toward and forward.
If all this weren’t enough, it’s time to throw in one more exception. Take a good look at the word “our.” Technically, it would be pronounced so it sounds like the vowel sound in power. But Americans, more frequently pronounce it with the “ar” sound.
Here are a few sentences to help you learn to how to perfect this sound.
I’m going to our car.
That’s our only chance to claim what’s truly ours.
Our meeting starts shortly
He was tall, dark, and handsome.
The art of writing letters has nearly disappeared.
She startled the intruder.
He gave her harsh glance.
He’s a member of the armed services.
Exploring the “Air” Sound
Now that you’re busy studying those typically American hard “r” sounds, we’re about to move on to a slightly different sound, but still well within the definition of a hard “r.” That’s the “air” sound.
You’ll discover this is more often sounded out like “ar” when it’s followed by an “e,” “y,” or “i.” Say these words out loud, or better yet, ask a native English speaker say the following few words out loud to get a better of idea of what I mean: care, share, scare, scares, barely, marry, rare.
The sound of “air” may show up with other spellings as well, most noticeably “ere” and “ear.” Look at the words, wear and swear. Ask a native speaker to pronounce them for you or listen to them on an online dictionary which offers correct pronunciation of its entries. Be careful, though, because there are two common exceptions to this that immediately come to mind: were and ear.
Confusing? You bet. But you’ll probably want to study and practice a bit and even enlist the help of native English speaking friends. Listen to someone recite these sentences, then repeat them after him or her.
I don’t care what you think of me.
Do you know where Tony is?
I was upstairs most of the day.
I swear I don’t know where she is.
The trick to pronouncing and sound like a native is to remember that all hard “r” sounds are short. Don’t linger too long on that sound. Again, if you listen closely to native speakers, you’ll at least have an idea of the sound you should be making when speaking these words. Then you can tackle it for yourself.