L and r sounds for Japanise speakers

<b>Forum for ideas on how to teach pronunciation </b>

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Post by hansbhoy7 » Mon Nov 13, 2006 1:56 am

EH wrote:This is really tough for most Japanese speakers. It's made even more difficult by the fact that /r/ and /l/ are made somewhat differently depending on the sounds that surround them in words.

Here's how I teach (American English) /r/. Start with vocalic /r/ (i.e. attached to a vowel sound, rather than at the beginning of a word). The whole process will likely take a few weeks of 15 min. sessions, depending on the students' skill levels.
1) Have them make an "ah" sound with a wide open mouth, noting that their tongue is sitting down at the bottom of their mouth, right behind their lower teeth. Have them make an "ee" sound, with a wide grin. Have them also make an "oh" sound, with their lips rounded. They must practice these seemingly simple vowel sounds for at least one session. The key is for them to make the vowels with correct mouth postures, NO tongue movement during each sound, and NO jaw movement either. Give practice for homework, to be done in front of a mirror.
2) Next session, do the same sounds, and keep the jaw completely still, but practice moving the tongue forward and backward while making the vowel sounds. The resulting sounds will be silly sounding, usually an inexact cross between the original vowels and the vowels plus /r/. At this point, forward/backward mobility of the tongue with stability of the jaw is the goal. This may take a session or two. Again, give homework to be done in front of a mirror.
3) When the task becomes consistently easy and automatic, go on to the next step, which is forming those random forward and back movements into real vowel + /r/ sounds. Start with /ar/, as that is the easiest to see in a mirror. You say /ar/ three times, slowly, with a wide open mouth, and then they try to copy you. Give them a thumbs up (perfect), thumbs down (not yet) or horizontal thumb (almost) for each production, so they know if they're on the right track or not. Have other students give ratings to their peers' productions as well, for listening practice.
4) When /ar/ is mastered, try /ir/ and /or/. Then try the same sounds with a consonant sound in front of them, as in words such as car, bar, hear, deer, sore, more. Then add more sounds, as in words such as stars, hardly, unclear, fearsome, deplore, before. After that, put the words in short, and eventually longer, sentences to practice.
5) Usually once vocalic /r/ is mastered, /r/ at the beginning of words becomes much easier. If it doesn't come naturally, you can let the students add a little vowel sound before the /r/ if that helps them (uhrabbit, uhradio, etc.). Gradually fade out the vowel sound.
6) For some students, /r/ blends (grass, brown, trade) are the hardest of all, usually because these require a lot of quick tongue movement. You can have them try adding a little extra vowel sound in here, too (guhrass, buhrown, tuhrade) if that increases their intelligibilty, but this is not a great habit to start. Probably better to just practice these blends a whole heck of a lot, without any added vowel crutches.

Teaching /l/ for me is really easy if the students are kids, and really hard if the students are adults. With kids, I use the tongue bite strategy. They stick out their tongues as far as the tongue will go, then lightly bite down on the protruded tongue and try to say the /l/ sound. It will sound a little strangled and silly. Do this a few times. The point is to realize that the very tip of the tongue--so important for Japanese /l/ sounds--is not as important for American /l/ (we sometimes use the tongue tip, but often use the area right behind the tongue tip, or both areas). The next step is for them to continue making an /l/ sound while very slowly sliding their tongue back into their mouth. The very slowly part is important here, because you are going to stop them when their /l/ sounds ideal. When you say stop, they immediately freeze their tongue position and say the sound repeatedly in this position. As for /r/, it helps if you model the sound three times, then they copy you three times with feedback from you and from classmates. Once they have the sound in isolation like this, move on to simple syllables, then more complex words, then short and finally longer sentences. Again, blends (blue, glove, place) will probably be a real challenge. It may help to tell them to have their tongue in the /l/ position before even making the proceeding sound. The hardest words of all will probably be those with both /r/ and /l/ (girl, squirrel, Carol). Those may never be easy, but a lot of practice does help.

Hope this helps.

i just tell my korean students to pronounce the name of their country which is KOREA...then i let them read KOLEA...they will now know the difference.....

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Similar problem

Post by Amers » Fri Nov 17, 2006 7:20 pm

This is a very interesting thread. I used the tongue position method to successfully describe the difference in making the 'l' and 'r' sounds with the Korean man that I'm tutoring. However, I discovered while we were doing dictation that he can't hear the differences when I speak. Other than practicing with more dictation, are there any other suggestions in helping with this?


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L and R sound practice...

Post by eslweb » Sun Nov 19, 2006 8:05 am

I have to admit that recognition of the sound comes first and then they're able to produce it. Many Koreans can hear the sound, but find it difficult to reproduce, but all of the Japanese I've taught can't hear the difference either. With this in mind I made a little Flash program for students to practice:

You can find it off this page:

I hope this helps somewhat, I've actually created a standalone version of the program, which if there's demand I'll put it up. (But it's much bigger than the Flash file)


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