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, 2012 at 13:41
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    – Alex B.
    Nov 1, 2012 at 14:34
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    @Mitch: Yes, many people (especially from south China) have difficulty in pronouncing those two sounds. Nov 1, 2012 at 16:12
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    @Mitch: wow I can't event imagine an English native speaker will ask me question like yours. You seem to know a lot about Chinese :) Let me give you some example, so for pinyin 're' = hot and 'le' = happy I (and people from my hometown) can never pronounce them correctly. Nov 3, 2012 at 16:17
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    @Mitch: I guess the part of reason for that is b/c we have a lot dialects and the pronunciation in all dialects are totally different. For the dialect I speak (the same as Taiwan people speak) we do not differentiate between syllable "l" and "r". They are the same to us. Nov 3, 2012 at 16:23

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'.

  • 2
    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, 2012 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?) Nov 1, 2012 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. Nov 1, 2012 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. Nov 1, 2012 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. Nov 3, 2012 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.

  • "Put your teeth together, make a voiced sound, then move your teeth apart as your voicing continues" Then how do I pronounce "L" ? :$ Nov 1, 2012 at 9:22
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    I use my tongue when I do "R". otherwise it sounds like a "W". Nov 1, 2012 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. Nov 1, 2012 at 13:39
  • @Quilang - to answer your subsequent question about L, I have edited my answer to include L.
    – user16269
    Nov 1, 2012 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, 2012 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, 2012 at 8:16
  • Idea is not to make an L or R sound yet but to get the resonance right. Nov 1, 2012 at 8:22
  • Seems rather complicated. But I will try. Thanks. Nov 1, 2012 at 9:31
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    As a native (British) English speaker, I find these instructions almost completely unhelpful.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 2, 2012 at 0:05

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