That's the reaction most people have to trying to learn the infamous <a href="../audio/misc/UvularR.mp3">play</a> [R] sound in French.  Actually, there are several [R] sounds that you can use, some being more common than others.  The most important thing is not to produce an English <a href="../audio/misc/RetroflexR.mp3">play</a> [r], for several reasons.  First of all, the English [r] is a resonant and has a vowel quality.  Second, it  has the effect of "rhotoizing" the vowel that precedes it.  That's just a linguistic term that means that the [r] changes the quality of the vowel.  So if you produce an English [r] while speaking French, you generally mispronounce 2 sounds: the [r] and any preceding vowel.

The three varieties of French [R] are the following:  the <a href="../audio/misc/UvularR.mp3">play</a> uvular fricative (made with the air forced between the back of your tongue and the uvula (that thing that hangs in the back of your throat) made with a lot of noise) is the standard French sound and the one you should try to do.  The <a href="../audio/misc/UvularTrill.mp3">play</a> uvular trill (made with the tongue moving back and forth very rapidly against the uvula).  This sound is the one you make when you gargle (think <a href="../audio/misc/PiafR.mp3">play</a> Edith Piaf).  The final variety is the <a href="../audio/misc/DentalTrill.mp3">play</a> dental trill (made with the tongue hitting the front teeth very rapidly).  This is the same sound as found in Spanish and Italian.  It is found in areas of France that border on those two countries, as well as in certain parts of Canada and in North Africa.  This variety is marked as somewhat provincial and old (in France.  It's perfectly acceptable in Canada and in North Africa).  Before the French Revolution, that was the [r] of the aristocracy; during the Revolution, pronouncing that [r] could result in a trip to the guillotine.  Thankfully, the consequences of that pronunciation are much less dire nowadays.  And, if you can't do the uvular fricative and can do the dental trill, it's still better than the English [r].

Now, how to pronounce the fricative: the best way is to start at the back of the throat.  Pronounce the velar stop [g].  While making the sound, move the back of your tongue just a bit down, so that there's room between your tongue and the uvula.  That's the [R] sound.

Here are some words to practice.  We're beginning with words that have the [R] following either [g] or [k] at the beginning of a syllable so you have a 'starting point' for the [R].  Then we'll move to words where the [R] follows another consonant.  Next, words where the [R] begins a syllable, that means, either at the beginning of a word or between 2 vowels.  The hardest position for pronouncing the [R] is before a consonant or at the end of a word.  In that position, really exaggerate the sound, because you will be tempted to just delete it altogether.  If the [R] precedes a consonant and there's a vowel other than e following that consonant, then pronounce the [R] as the last sound of the syllable.  For example:  parte is a one-syllable word.  But partie is two syllables: par and tie.

Introduction | Syllable Length | C'est passionnant! | Huffing & Puffing |
How Many Syllables? | Dipthongs | Say aaaaaah! | Know How to Whistle? | Grrrrrrr! |
Front Rounded Vowels | e-caduc | Nasal Vowels
Arizona State University Dept. of Languages and Literatures