The Russian R

Hello everyone
I would really like to learn Russian
But i couldn’t pronounce the R i pronounce it same the French R it’s a genetic most of my family can’t pronounce it i practice many time but it doesn’t work so should i really fix this problem or it’s ok people will understand me even if i don’t say it correctly?

Don’t worry about it. You’ll be understood, it’s just a matter of accent

Thank you very much

Don’t worry. I could not speak R in Russian as native speakers till the age of 7. Now I know some tricks how to fix it. You need to say quickly “ddddddddddddd” and use a tea spoon to start this “engine” :wink:
But I don’t know how to pronounce French or German R. That sound is not so evident as in Russian or Spanish.


I once asked on these forums whether the Russian ‘R’ is softening over time (having noticed lots of hard trilling in old movies), and was firmly told that, no, it is not. But some native speakers seem to barely tap their tongue once, while others sound like a machine gun. So I have another question: Is the tendency to pronounce ‘R’ more or less hard a regional phenomenon?

I watch a lot of Russian-language YouTube, and I subscribe to channels that I’d like to watch more because of both interesting content and understandable speech. It turns out that I have subscribed to a large number of Russian-speaking Ukrainians. I’ve mentioned before that I somehow find that Russian-speaking Ukrainians are easier for me to understand, and I think it may be in part because their 'R’s tend to be softer. Is this a valid observation, that the 'R’s of Russian-speaking Ukrainians generally have less trill?

(And while we’re doing a non-scientific sampling of YouTube channels, I find that Russian speakers from Belarus speak very fast – well, at least the two to whom I’ve subscribed do so.)

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Hi khardy
The problem for me that i could not say this letter even in my language we have to say it correctly but i don’t know what is the problem with me and i feel shame sometimes because many people laugh at me because i couldn’t say this letter:(

In Spanish there’s a difference between a tapped r (written as single r in the middle of a word) and a trilled r (written as a double r in the middle of words or as a single r in the beginning). They’re different phonemes, meaning that a difference in this sound can change the meaning of a word. Minimal pairs include pero/perro, caro/carro. There are exceptions to this rule, however, for instance, there’s no such distinction at the end of words or before consonants. In these cases both sounds are possible, the tap is more usual but you’d hear a strong trill for emphasis. Sports commentators during football matches, for example, often use strong trills. The technical term here is that those sounds are in “free variation” in that position.

As a native Spanish speaker, my impression is that the tappd and trilled r are in free variation in all positions in the Russian language. Taht is, native speakers use one or the other and in different levels of strength depending on situation. The “default” value seems to be a light trill, not a simple tap but not as strong as Spanish double r. However pronouncing taps is also not infrequent. When I’m in Russia I often use taps in fast speech (saves energy) and no native speaker has ever corrected me. As in Spanish, strong trills tend to appear when words are emphasized. Of course, some speakers tend to be more emphatic than others. In my experience, such personal factors seem to have a bigger effect than regional variation.

As for the strong trills in old movies, I can only speculate but my feeling is that old-time actors felt compelled to speak in a very articulate, emphatic way, which was not always a reflection of everyday speech, probably due to the influence of a theatre-based training. As a comparison, consider the “Mid-atlantic” accent that was usually heard in old American movies and boradcasts and even in the speech of some politicians. Some other “artificial”, over-articulated accents can be heard in movies and broadcasts from the early to middle 20th century in many countries and languages.

Wow! I have never heared such differences in regional pronounciations. I can hardly recognize whether a person is from Ukrain, Russia or Belarus. Yes, sometimes people may have a strong and evident accent. But I have never mentioned a difference in R. Maybe jews from Odessa had such specific R but I believe it happened to be many years ago.

It was a very interesting idea about the speed of Belarusians speach. I have never thought about it. But I can hear how fast my own recordings are in comparison to some other providers. I have always thought my speed is slow and we traditionally in Belarus think we are not so quick in everything as Russians or Ukrainians. I have always thought Belarusians are as calm as our nothern nature. It’s very interesting and surprizing to point it out.

Not that I’ve ever had to consciously learn it myself* (which is odd, I don’t use it in my native accent of English, but I can’t ever remember not being able to do it), but the standard advice I’ve heard is to repeat the phrase ‘Prince of Prussia’, but then swap the 'r’s for 'd’s: Pdince of Pdussia, then try to reach a sound that is sort of halfway between them, saying it fast enough to get it sounding smooth. That will get you the Spanish style ‘tapped’ r, and once you can do that, it should be just a matter of holding your tongue in that position a bit longer to get it to trill.

*I did, however, have to consciously learn the French back-of-the-tongue trilled ‘r’. I then wondered if there are any languages that use both. Turns out that Georgian kind of does - their letter ღ (ghani) sometimes comes out as a back of the tongue trilled ‘r’, and the letter რ (rae) is sometimes a front trill. In other news, whatever happened to that person who was trying to find a Georgian translator for the mini-stories? :slight_smile:

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Richard, the guy who Evgeniy often speaks to in his skype conversations, has an impressive ‘R’. Wonder how he did that.

You could argue that some varieties of Portuguese also sport both types of r

About pronunciation of “r” in Portuguese: The enigmatic Portuguese R (long version) | Hacking Portuguese

Good point. The bulk of my Portuguese learning experience came about as a result of a romance with a Brazilian who grew up in the inland states of Goias and Minas Gerais, so in her accent, word-initial ‘r’ was like English ‘h’, word-middle ‘r’ was pretty close to English (untrilled) ‘r’, and word-final ‘r’ (like in infinitive verbs) basically disappeared entirely, but served to lengthen the preceding vowel. So the variety of Portuguese that I’ve spent most time listening to has no trills at all :slight_smile:

You can try some techniques that speech-language pathologists use to teach the R sound. There are many examples on YouTube. Here’s the one: Логопед для взрослых. Постановка звука Р - YouTube (in Russian)

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Is the tendency to pronounce ‘R’ more or less hard a regional phenomenon?
Is this a valid observation, that the 'R’s of Russian-speaking Ukrainians generally have less trill?

Strictly speaking, the hard /r/ is the alveolar thrill in Ukrainian and the post-alveolar thrill in Russian (which makes it less articulated in Russian), although Wikipedia says that /r/ often becomes a single tap in Ukrainian (which in turn should make it less articulated in Ukrainian). So, I doubt that you can really distinguish them in the spoken language, especially because the difference in their pronunciation doesn’t differentiate the meaning of words like in Spanish. Nuances are totally personal and depend on the situation.

The soft /r/ is most often the tap in Russian, but to my ears it’s more articulated and less ‘sloppy’ then Spanish tap /r/, which is a very “lazy” sound to my two Russian ears (though it’s my favorite sound in Spanish).