Saturday, 6 June 2009

The ghost of R

Years of giving accent correction to my students have demonstrated that many Japanese learners of English are exceedingly obsessed with the English “r” sound. They make much effort to correctly produce what we technically call the alveolar approximant (frictionless continuant). However, many of them tend to believe, quite mistakenly, that English pronunciation is characterised by nothing but this sound.

The trouble is that their obsession with /r/ is so strong that, when speaking English or reading English text, they tend to awkwardly retract the tongue root, with the tongue tip slightly curled up, throughout the whole of articulation. As a result, all the vowels are r-coloured regardless of the spelling and all the alveolar consonants are somewhat retroflex-like. I always try to make them realise that they don't have to pay too much attention to /r/ in post-vocalic positions (whichever accent of English they are aiming at), but their obsession with this particular sound won't let my advice ring in their ears.

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