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Hiragana Lesson 8: ら り る れ ろ

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Japanesepod101

Illustration and voice by Shou Yukiya Bookmark and Share

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Hiragana Romaji Mnemonics
ra

A rabbit head.

ri

It looks like LI.
ru

The loop of a roller coaster
re

A man lets the fish go.
ro A road.

Photo of roller coaster is taken by Wiki0001, used under GNU1.2.

How to pronounce the Japanese R?

First of all, NEVER pronounce it as the English R. I mean NEVER! English R does not exist in the Japanese language. So forget about it when you're learning Japanese.

Just pronounce it like the English L.

So how to pronounce らりるれろ? If you are not after perfect accent, my easy answer is to pronounce them as English "la, li, lu, le, lo". In other words, just use English "L". In fact, Japanese R is sometimes pronounced exactly as English L when it is after Hiragana ん. The only difference between Japanese R and English L is that the Japanese R is a tap sound, meaning that your tongue touches the gum behind your upper front teeth for a very short time only once, e.g. touch and go quickly. But the English L is an approximant, meaning that the tongue is brought close to the gum behind the upper front teeth. If you are speaker of American English, the "tt" in "better" is a kind of tap sound.

Sometimes the Japanese R really sounds like English R. Why?

The Japanese R actually has two main ways of pronuncation.
1. As stated above, same as English L but the tongue touches the gum behind the upper front teeth for a very short time only once. In this pronunciation, the airstream flows along the sides of the tongue.
2. The tongue touches the gum behind the upper front teeth to make a complete closure. Air is forced out along the top of the tongue.

"Sides" and "top" are the point here. Because the airstream of English R is also on the top of the tongue, so when the Japanese R is pronounced in the 2nd way, it sounds like English R for English native speakers. For your reference, when English R is pronounced, the tongue does not touch the gum at all.

Anyway, because the Japanese language does not have English R or L, there will be no misunderstanding if you pronounce the Japanese R as English R or L. (Of course, I recommend L.) You may sound funny to native Japanese speakers. But people will understand you. And you should understand that it is extremely difficult for the Japanese people to tell the difference between English R and L, because these two sounds simply do not exist in their language and their R has two main ways of pronunciation.

Actually, "R" is a very special letter. Many langauges have this letter. But its pronunciation varies greatly in different languages. French R, Spanish R, English R and Chinese R mean 4 totally different pronunciations. And now we have Japanese R. Headache. Right?

How to write:

hiragana ra

hiragana ri

hiragana ru

hiragana re

hiragana ro

The stroke order illustrations are made by D.328, used under CCSA3.0.