Anyone else have difficulty with pronouncing 'iru', 'iro', etc

Hey there,

i just came across the vocabulary 試みる and finally thought about making a topic about something that’s been bothering me for some time.

Basically, I am able to pronounce the japanese r sound in all its forms (even the ri, ryo, rya and ryu sounds, which took extra practice), except if the r is preceded by an ‘i’ sound. It’s like my tongue just gets stuck. The vocabulary 試みる is a perfect example for me, as the ‘ro’ sound comes out super well, but the iru part’s r sound is not well pronounced at all, making it almost sound like mi-u (with - being sorta silent mini pause). It’s like my tongue doesn’t quite hit the top of my mouth and I can’t make it do it either, resulting in a very quiet ‘weak-sounding’ r.

So I was wondering if anyone else has this problem, or if it’s just me.

I hope my explanation is somewhat understandable. I guess it would be easier with some audio haha

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I do not have that specific problem, but I have a similar one. I’m having trouble if the previous sound is ん rather than i.
I add a tiny break in between to let my tongue reset, but I haven’t noticed people having that specific problem either :thinking: I guess it’s due to the position of my tongue when I try to say ん, I don’t know. I should try to correct it but it’s not a big deal.


In the case of an ん preceding, you want to pronounce it more like English L from what I learned. Basically I don’t reset my tongue to pronounce it you simply just pull off your tongue from the position it is in after pronouncing the ん and due to the positioning it ends up coming out to my ear more as an L, but I confirmed with my Japanese teacher that it sounds correct to her and she doesn’t notice the difference. :sweat_smile: :man_shrugging: Once I learned that it made pronouncing words like 人類 much easier as there’s no need to get tongue tied trying to reset your tongue to tap.

I got it from this link originally:

In that post it’s what was referred to as the ’ non-tap allophone’:

With the /r/ sound, there are two main allophones to consider. (The following is based on The Sounds of Japanese by Timothy Vance, page 89):

  1. The first one is the one described in the answer istrasci links to; it’s called an apico-alveolar tap , and it’s written with the IPA symbol [ɾ]. This sound involves quickly tapping the tongue on the roof of the mouth, specifically on the alveolar ridge (the ridge located behind the teeth). The apico- part of the name means that you use specifically the tip of your tongue, not the blade.
  2. The second one is what Timothy Vance refers to as a non-tap allophone . In this version of /r/, the tongue is already resting on the roof of the mouth , so all you do is pull your tongue off instead of tapping. And this is the allophone you heard in roku . (For whatever reason, Vance chooses not to give this allophone a separate symbol, so I’ll refer to it by name instead.)

This non-tap allophone occurs when it’s the first sound you say (called utterance-initial position ). And that’s why you heard it in roku , because she wasn’t saying anything before she started to say the /r/ sound. The non-tap allophone also occurs immediately after an /N/ sound , as in the words benri or jinrui .


I’ve actually had problems with that sound as well (and sometimes still do when I’m not warmed up). Somewhere on the internet I finally read that you actually keep your tongue pressed to the roof of the mouth (where you’re voicing your ん and then flick it downwards. So there is no quick flick back and fourth, like there would be if the r is between two vowels.

This is actually how the r sound is pronounced as well when its at the start of a sentence. This is why sometimes, when you look up japanese people pronouncing the r sounds, the ら will sound a little different to the rest (it sounds more like an l imo).


Oh wow, you posted while I was writing my explanation and I think this might be what I read some time ago. Good to know I remembered it correctly :slight_smile:

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Yep, it was a very helpful post when I discovered it years ago. It was amusing, though, when talking about it with my teacher as to her being a native the two ways sound completely the same.

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Say the word “igloo” and notice where your tongue is when you pronounce the L. For most English accents it should be just behind your front teeth. Now, drop the g and say “iloo”. Again, the tongue should be just behind the front teeth. Now say say it again but replace the L with a D, “idoo”.

Practicing saying both of those words alternately, “iloo” and “idoo” and notice where your tongue is on each.

The position for the Japanese R is between those two locations in your mouth. So move the tongue a bit and try saying “iroo” in that position. You may have to go back and forth between the words until you find the right spot.


One thing to note is that speakers who use the nasalized g [ŋ] like Kenichi will tend to pronounce ん farther back in the throat with the middle of the tongue before the flick for the R.

It’s subtle but you can hear the difference in the audio recordings for 人類.

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Ah okay. Yeah, listening to that I can definitely hear that and feel a difference in my tongue when trying to pronounce it the same way.

Always interesting to listen to those recordings since the two teachers I’ve had so far are not from Tokyo.

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Yeah it took me a while to actually hear it until I switched the default in WK to Kenichi. Before I thought it was full on nasalization like “jingrui” but now I can tell the difference.

It’s cool you had teachers with different accents from Tokyo standard. I find that helps to hear the nuances better. I listen to a lot of 関西弁 because 1.) anime and 2.) I think it sounds cool. But it also helps to understand 東京弁 better for me.

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