R or L when singing Japanese songs?

I was listening to one of HigeDan DISM’s songs and noticed that the “sayonara” was pronounced as “sayonala”. This happens in other Japanese songs as well. Is there a rule somewhere on diction if a song is fast or slow to swap out the r for l? Or, is it just singer preference/style?

Note: I do not mean to offend native Japanese speakers in any way. I just want to learn/sing songs and do them justice in Japanese. This way, I can work on my pronunciation and hopefully, not sound so much like a 外人… at least while singing that is. :joy:

Thoughts? Give it a listen here.



It sounds like a normal ら to me. To be fair, the ら line exists between L and R and isn’t a single sound, it can be pronounced subtly differently by different speakers.

The fact that we write ら with “ra” in romaji is not a suggestion that it should sound like “ra” would in English.


None of them. The sooner you stop trying to transliterate Japanese sounds with English letters the better your pronunciation will get. Many sounds just can’t be precisely conveyed in English. Just listen and learn to say it right. Take transliteration out of the equation.


The sound represented by the ら line of hiragana uses what is called an alveolar tap. In English, we have R which is pronounced with an alveolar approximate, and L which is pronounced with a lateral approximate. You can search for “IPA” or “phonetics” or “linguistics” to learn more about these sounds, but in short, the sound that you’re hearing is neither the English L nor the English R, and while it is similar to both of them, it is not really equivalent to either and you will have to train yourself to both pronounce and recognize this sound in Japanese. It takes some time to get used to, so don’t stress if you can’t tell the difference right away.

EDIT: if you’ve ever studied Spanish before, it is similar to the short R such as in pero (“but”). (But not the trilled R such as in perro.)


My Sensei told me pronouncing ら like “la” is more understandable to native Japanese speakers than pronouncing it as “ra.” That being said, I agree with the comments above. ら has a distinct pronunciation similar to R and L, but not quite the same!


Heh, I found when I was in Italy a couple of years ago that if I read the Italian words with a Japanese R-sound, it actually sounded like pretty good Italian. At least to my ear. :stuck_out_tongue:


I took Spanish and Italian in school, but sadly none of it really stuck. Whenever I try to say Spanish words now I find myself going into “Japanese mode” and trying to map pitch accent onto Spanish words and it sounds incredibly bad. :joy:


One way to get close is to say “la” and then “da” and notice where your tongue touches the roof of your mouth. For the Japanese ら, try to touch your tongue to a place midway between those points on the roof of your mouth.


For speakers of Standard American English, it’s also the same sound as the ‘t’ in ‘butter’ and the ‘d’ in ‘ladder.’

I don’t know if this works… people are generally terrible at feeling tongue position. ‘la’ and ‘da’ feel like they’re in the same place for me :joy:


With “la” your tongue should be behind the ridge. With “da” your tongue should be on the top of your teeth in front of the ridge. “Ra” is anywhere between those.

(THIS IS FOR MY ACCENT DISCLAIMER If you don’t speak Yorkshire dialect this could be wrong for you). :sweat_smile:


A classic by Tofugu. The tongue position thing is explained well.

How To Pronounce The Japanese “R” Sound


When I was starting out, the best way for me to think of it was the らりるれろ sounds are sort of halfway between the hard English L and R sounds. It helped me to picture the sound in my head as “rla” instead of the romaji “ra” in the beginning. Dunno if this is really the best way to do it, but it worked for me.


Great to see this explained in this thread. Previously I didn’t think too hard on it, merely recognizing that different people leans harder toward an r-sound, others toward an l-sound. So singing la la la la, can sound pretty much like that or as ra ra ra ra from certain Japanese singers.

I think Death Note is a also good example of how pronunciation differs between speakers. We have the main character Yagami Raito/Laito (Light Yagami) and of course detective L, or Eru. You hear different characters pronounce their names with different emphasis on L/R throughout the show.


The posts above are correct to point out that ら、り、る、れ、ろ have a distinct sound that’s between R and L with a touch of D.

However, I also notice that depending on the speaker and what they are saying it could sound extremely close to L.

I think it’s because Japanese speakers don’t have a distinction between R and L, so prouncing the sound closer to R or to L doesn’t have a meaningful difference. Probably Japanese speakers don’t pay attention to it (just like English speakers don’t notice pitch accent patterns).


What everyone else has said is true, whether you here la or ra, its the same sound in japanese, that being the alveolar tap. In the beginning, to me, it felt very similar to making a d sound, but after studying japanese for over a year now, it has become its own sound/movement in my head.

However, I have also definitely noticed that some speakers will sound different than others. I’d wager that they are still all doing an alveolar tap, but doing so slightly differently, like maybe positioning their tongue in different way.

While practicing the r/l sound, I’ve noticed myself that I can ‘curl’ (don’t really know how to describe this tbh) the tongue slightly differently to make it sound more like an l and feel less like an d (either way, it still sounds like the japanese r and is still an alveolar tap).

By the way, if you can’t say it yet, it definitely sounds more like an l than an english r. In fact, if try to keep the “lllll” part of the “l” as short as possible, it sounds very alike.


The Japanese can’t “curl” though, that’s why it’s「カール」:laughing:


Can’t remember where I read it (probably something someone linked on these forums), but apparently as you move towards ‘l’ speech sounds more cutesy, whereas as it gets more like a hard ‘r’ it’s more masculine and aggressive. It definitely holds true in the media I’ve watched, but most people I’ve spoken to just use the standard middle tap.

In songs though, I think there’s a tendency to shift sounds for clearer enunciation, including saying /l/. Not in the case of this song though.

A fun exercise to “find” the position is to start saying tapped 'l’s, then progressively move your the point you tap backwards until you need to curl your tongue back. For me it feels like just slightly behind where I pronounce an English ‘d’


That makes sense. There’s a lot going on with Japanese speaking habits that express your personality. I can’t think of similar examples in Swedish. It’s just dialectal differences really. Perhaps, intonation? :thinking:

In any case, I think it’s one of the harder things to navigate, since I don’t yet know how I wanna express/present myself - beyond being a normal person. How to incorporate personality into the picture is the hard part (I guess, it’s somewhat optional, but still, you can’t be all stiff and formal all the time).


I think it goes both ways.

For example, the last から in the following line at 1:10 for Again by Yu:


Sounds more like “L”:

But in 愛にできることはまだあるかい by RADWIMPS, at the 2:06 mark, the れ in くれた in the following line:


Sounds closer to “d”. くれた in general seems to use the harder れ.


Queue me doing alveolar taps with the tongue curled back as far as possible :laughing: At a certain point it sorta feels like you’re about to swallow your own tongue :sweat_smile: