How to pronounce Japanese ‘R’

In Japanese, there are five syllables containing the ‘R’ sound: ら ra り ri る ru れ re ろ ro. The Japanese ‘R’ is probably one of the trickiest consonant to pronounce because it is very different from the English ‘R’. However, it is not actually difficult!

If you speak American English, think of how you pronounce the ‘T’ sound in water, letter, meter, cutter, and so on. You probably pronounce it soft, while a British English speaker would pronounce it sharp. That soft ‘T’ sound (called “flap T”) is similar to the Japanese ‘R’ sound.

When you pronounce ら ra り ri る ru れ re ろ ro, the tip of your tongue lightly touches or flaps right above the back of your front teeth. This is certainly different from how we pronounce the English ‘R’ because the tip of your tongue does not touch anywhere.

Let’s practice pronouncing the loan words below! Note that ‘L’ as well as ‘R’ in English is usually transcribed as Japanese ‘R’. Click the romaji  (i.e. transliteration) in blue to hear audio.