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i__forget

Tips for pronouncing "r"

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i__forget

I'm struggling with the pronunciation of the Pinyin "r". I have read that the tongue position should be the same as the Pinyin "sh". Is there something else I should be aware of? Any other tips? How much friction should I apply between the tongue and the top of the mouth?

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889

The initial r is really challenging, especially when matched up with i or e. Can't give good guidance except to say you'll know you've finally got it right when a native speaker instantly knows whether you're saying 热 or 日: 热日 versus 日热.

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SunnySideUp

A Chinese teacher once told me the "r" position would be closest to the French "j"... So I'd try to form the start of "Je m'appelle" and then take it from there. Can't say I've mastered it though!

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Demonic_Duck
1 hour ago, i__forget said:

I have read that the tongue position should be the same as the Pinyin "sh".

 

Correct.

 

1 hour ago, i__forget said:

Is there something else I should be aware of?

 

Depending on your mother tongue, pinyin "sh" may not be pronounced how you think it's pronounced. Pinyin "sh, zh, ch, r" are typically thought of as "retroflex". In reality, they're not quite retroflex, but they're still a lot closer to being retroflex than English "sh" is.

 

This is where my Wikipedia-centric understanding of phonetics breaks down, because Wikipedia's illustration of "retroflex fricative" looks like this:

 

454px-Voiceless_retroflex_fricative_articulation.svg.png

 

This is far too exaggerated for Mandarin (at least in standard dialects). Really, you want the tip of the tongue just behind the bony ridge that lies behind your upper teeth, not curled up on itself like that.

 

What you also don't want is English "sh", which is formed with the tongue much lower and a ridge down the middle of the tongue. Perceptually, the two sounds are very similar, but the difference becomes a lot clearer when you voice them. This is likely why your "sh" sounds passable, but your "r" sounds noticeably off.

 

Edit: Just found this youtube video of an MRI recording of someone producing the sound:

 

voiced retroflex fricative - YouTube
maxresdefault.jpg

 

The amount of retroflex here is maybe a shade more exaggerated than typical Mandarin pronunciation, but I'd say it's definitely within the acceptable range. And this YouTube channel looks like a goldmine for pronunciation!

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TaxiAsh

One of best tips I found was on a youtube, where they said say the word 'Asia' and the tongue position (and sound) is close the the aSIa in Asia. (though I suppose it depends on how you pronounce this word!)

 

 

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889

I was also taught the French je technique. Mais alors, I still couldn't get it down right.

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Demonic_Duck

I think the French "j" approximation suffers from the same problem. Pinyin "r" is retroflex(-ish), whereas French "j" isn't.

 

The same issue, in reverse, is why Chinese people massively struggle with words like "genre".

 

For anyone that knows Russian, it should be easy, as it's the same as the sound of the letter "ж".

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889

Maybe that's the problem. Being taught by a French-speaking native Chinese who didn't quite catch on to the subtle difference.

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SunnySideUp

I still thought the "j" approximation was helpful if you adjust your tongue to where it should be (and make it retroflex-ish).

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suMMit

The biggest help for me was when i stopped trying to somehow pronounce the "i"in “ri-”. Also, keeping the tongue still and not moving it forward while making the initial R. If i remember corrrectly, the Allset Learning website had some good instruction on it.

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Shelley

To my ear its much more like a Scottish "r", slightly rolled and hard.

I spent some time searching for a good example but they were few and far between and didn't really show how.

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Demonic_Duck
46 minutes ago, Shelley said:

To my ear its much more like a Scottish "r", slightly rolled and hard.

 

Pinyin "r" is definitely never rolled, nor tapped like the Scottish "r" often is.

 

What follows is speculative, but I think many Chinese people without exposure to languages that use it wouldn't think of rolled "r" as a rhotic (r-like) sound at all, or maybe even a viable speech sound. The single data point I have to back this up is this old recording of the 老上海 song 《满场飞》:

 

滿場飛 - 張帆 - YouTube

 

At 0:35, the "爱" in the line 步也徘徊,也徘徊 sounds like it's pronounced with a rolled "r" (/raɪ̯/), suggesting that this isn't considered to be a speech sound at all, but rather an artistic flourish with no semantic content.

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Shelley

I did say slightly rolled, its more the same tongue position and the way the air move over it.

A hard Beijing 热 is to my ear much harder and almost rolled. Like a cat purring almost.

 

 

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Demonic_Duck
2 minutes ago, Shelley said:

I did say slightly rolled, its more the same tongue position and the way the air move over it.

 

I think you're right that the tongue position is similar, but the way the air moves over it is quite different (there's no turbulence, unlike a cat purr).

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i__forget

My understanding is that there is no friction (rolling of r) between tongue and mouth , and it's less retroflexed than the English "r". Adding this slight friction is destroying the sound. 

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889

Bear in mind there's standard textbook pronunciation and then there's the way a truly 老北京儿人儿 speaks.

 

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i__forget

The male and female pronunciation of "r" in Pleco sounds similar to a Spanish "r", without the friction. Same tongue position, just no rolling. Check out 若 how they sound. There is no "s" sound from "pleasure", it's a clean "r".

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Demonic_Duck
2 hours ago, 889 said:

Bear in mind there's standard textbook pronunciation and then there's the way a truly 老北京儿人儿 speaks.

 

Ah, but 儿化音 is a totally different thing. Pinyin initial "r-" is a different sound from pinyin final "-r". Otherwise, "事儿" would be pronounced the same as "是" (because "sh-" is basically just a voiced version of "r-").

 

I wonder if there's ever a situation where 日 could be pronounced 日儿. That'd be a weird sound, 份儿事儿. Uhh... I mean "for sure".

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i__forget

Is there any possibility that the sides of the tongue have to look upwards when making this 'r' sound? So we don't only have to point and touch the entire tongue to the ceiling of the mouth, but also curve the sides towards the middle of the tongue? 

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vellocet
On 10/10/2020 at 6:56 PM, SunnySideUp said:

A Chinese teacher once told me the "r" position would be closest to the French "j"... So I'd try to form the start of "Je m'appelle" and then take it from there. Can't say I've mastered it though!

What should you do if you don't speak French?

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