Pronunciation of ら in 来月?

As a preface, I know that in Japanese, “r” or “l” as they exist in English do not exist, and that the Japanese “r” sound is somewhere between the two.
However, I noticed that in the vocal samples for 来月 and 来年, ら is pronounced almost like “la,” or maybe even a very soft version of the Japanese “ra” sound I am used to. Is this just how ら sounds at the beginning of a word? For other words like 本来, where ら comes in the middle of the word, I noticed that this is not necessarily the case. Or am I just mishearing it, and they are actually the same sound?

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They’re the same sound.

The only sound that can change when it comes in the middle of a word is “g”, which can become “ng” in the Tokyo dialect, though reportedly that’s showing up less among the younger generations.

And also ん, which sounds like “n” most of the time, but “m” when it’s followed by a “p”, “b”, or another “m”.

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The Japanese R isn’t in between an L or an R, I’d say. It’s a similar tongue flick that you’d make saying the “d” in “Eddy”, but with your tongue further back up the roof of your mouth, like a prolonged L.

That tongue flick can come across as a bit softer after an ん because the speaker’s tongue is already on the roof of their mouth. So only half of the flick is made, giving it a little less pressure. That’s why you sometimes hear it as a different sound. It’s because a different level of stress is applied, it often also changes a bit based on speech intensity. Totally normal, and it’s something you get used to.

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The differences you might hear all sound the same from a Japanese person’s perspective. They don’t intend or distinguish any difference, no matter where the sound occurs along the R-L continuum.

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ん can do a lot more transformations besides those two. But this is true for virtually all languages.

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It’s the same sound, it’s just that there’s slight differences in the way people pronounce words, even among native speakers. This is why I make it a point to listen to multiple examples of vocab. Even more important to listen to the words used within contextual sentences, because it can often sound totally different than when the word is isolated.

That makes sense, I tried pronouncing ら and ら words a bunch on my own and kinda got the same-ish sound, I think I just haven’t heard ら be pronounced enough to get used to it.

Thanks!