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When I say "wrong" people always mishear as "long". Pronouncing "r" and "l" correctly is always a big challenge for me. In Chinese we also have a syllable pronounced like "r" and a syllable pronounced like "l" and I can never pronounce them correctly. So how do I practice that in English?

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Are you saying that you have difficulties pronouncing the two sounds differently in your native Chinese? –  Mitch Nov 1 '12 at 13:41
    
How do you practice that in English? Not on the internet, I'm afraid, as I think has been demonstrated. Instead, get a copy of J.C. Catford's A Practical Introduction to Phonetics, which is designed for individual study, and is full of practical advice, based on the best scientific practice, on pronouncing anything. –  John Lawler Nov 1 '12 at 13:43
    
Oh, one more thing that may help. American English initial /r/ is rounded, and that colors the vowels around it. Try rounding your lips (like /u/) when you're saying whatever you're saying for English /r/ and see if that helps. Also, be sure to speak slowly and not leave stuff out at first; people need all the clues they can get. –  John Lawler Nov 1 '12 at 13:46
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englishteachermelanie.com/… –  Alex B. Nov 1 '12 at 14:34
    
@Mitch: Yes, many people (especially from south China) have difficulty in pronouncing those two sounds. –  Qiulang Nov 1 '12 at 16:12

3 Answers 3

Put simply, curl your tongue further back in your mouth.

An 'l' is voiced and articulated with the tip of the tongue aginst the ridge behind your top teeth. An 'r' is also voiced but the tip of the tongue is higer, and further back aginst the roof of your mouth.

If you begin with an long 'l' and move the tip of your tongue backwards along the roof of your mouth, the sound will turn into an 'r'.

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Is that a rhotic R? A rolled R? I don't do what you describe with my Rs; in fact the tongue hardly comes into play at all. If I try to do what you describe, it sounds like L. I think this may be where dialect comes into play: in the UK, a Liverpudlian R may well be formed how you describe. I'm from Sussex. –  Andrew Leach Nov 1 '12 at 8:07
    
... And in the midwest region of the US, our 'r' sounds like the sound a pirate would make, "Aaarrrr (mateys!)" (can I still resonate from my tonsils if I've had them removed?) –  Kristina Lopez Nov 1 '12 at 11:02
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@KristinaLopez ~ if the surgeon gave them back to you in a little jar, I am sure you could find a way to vibrate your tonsils. –  Roaring Fish Nov 1 '12 at 14:16
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I would add that the sides of the tongue should make contact with the molars when making the /r/ sound. If only the tip of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth, even if curled back farther, it can still sound like an /l/. This is coming from a native English speaker raised in the western United States. –  Dan Moulding Nov 1 '12 at 14:41
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I can make both an 'l' and an 'r' with my tongue in each of these two positions. I think it's the shape of the tongue that distinguishes these two sounds in American English, and not the position, as @Dan says. –  Peter Shor Nov 3 '12 at 12:37

Do not use your tongue at all. Keep it well out of the way. Put your teeth together, make a voiced sound, then move your teeth apart as your voicing continues. This makes the "R". From there, move straight into the "O" position, and continue with the rest of "wrong".

Edit: To pronounce an "L", place the front portion of your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth, so that the tip of the tongue is just behind your upper teeth. Make a voiced sound, then move your tongue downwards as the voicing continues.

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"Put your teeth together, make a voiced sound, then move your teeth apart as your voicing continues" Then how do I pronounce "L" ? :$ –  Qiulang Nov 1 '12 at 9:22
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I use my tongue when I do "R". otherwise it sounds like a "W". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Nov 1 '12 at 12:31
    
English /r/ phonemes vary greatly in their phonetics; a uvular fricative or trill would not involve the tongue. But most others would. And any /l/ phoneme must by definition involve the tongue, since /l/ is a voiced lateral resonant, where "lateral" refers to the sides of the tongue, where the air escapes. –  John Lawler Nov 1 '12 at 13:39
    
@Quilang - to answer your subsequent question about L, I have edited my answer to include L. –  user16269 Nov 1 '12 at 17:09
    
a uvular fricative or trill ... interesting idea. Maybe some Chinese working on pronunciation should learn an R sound like French or Spanish. To avoid confusion with the L sound. They will sound foreign, but so what: they already do. –  GEdgar Nov 1 '12 at 18:14
Rah rah Rasputin
Brought along a broad
On the road to rot a lot.
Plot to prod her to crack some pot
With some reed and weed
Bleat to greet her
To agree to breed.

The 'L' sound should resonate with your throat.

The 'R' sound should resonate with the area between your tonsil and upper set of teeth.

Practice the verse above without making any L or R sounds, but

  • when you encounter an R vibrate your tonsil area and breathe the word out of your upper set of teeth and and try to feel the breathing flowing underneath your tongue.

  • When you encounter an L vibrate your throat and groan and try to feel your breath passing through the tip of your tongue.

Practice it frequently and then when you are used to it, gradually replace the tonsil vibration with R sound and groaning/throat vibrations with L sound.

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Are you sure? Your descriptions don't sound like anything that I would recognise as an L or an R. Moreover, I'm quite sure I don't know how to "vibrate my tonsil area" - I don't think I have the right muscles there. –  user16269 Nov 1 '12 at 8:16
    
Idea is not to make an L or R sound yet but to get the resonance right. –  Blessed Geek Nov 1 '12 at 8:22
    
Seems rather complicated. But I will try. Thanks. –  Qiulang Nov 1 '12 at 9:31
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As a native (British) English speaker, I find these instructions almost completely unhelpful. –  Colin Fine Nov 2 '12 at 0:05

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