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If pronouncing correct German R sound is uncomfortable, which is the best substitution?

I learned how the correct High German R (the uvular trill, sort of like a gargling from the throat) is pronounced by watching pronunciation guides on YouTube and reading about it, however, I find it difficult and uncomfortable to imitate during speech. I'd rather just not try to use that R sound because of that, but if I do it a different way, which would native speakers consider to be the best alternative? I have no issue whatsoever doing the alveolar R sounds as seen in Spanish and many other European languages, so I can do a "tapped" R or a "rolled" R. I know there are some dialects of German that pronounce the R in a different way than the commonly-used uvular, but which would be considered the "best" substitution: a single-tap alveolar R, a rolled or trilled alveolar R, or just an English-style R?

July 1, 2017



In my experience, the most common pronunciation is a uvular fricative; the uvular trill would come second.

An English-style R also occurs among native German speakers in some areas -- but much less commonly. (When I first met such a speaker, I thought they had an English accent, because I had never heard of that being a regional pronunciation.)

So an English-style R would not be out of the question, but I imagine that most speakers would be as unfamiliar with this regional variation as I used to be and chalk it down to an English accent rather than as imitating an authentic regional German variant.

Perhaps an alveolar trill might be best.

I'm not sure.

Remember also that R can assimilate; for example, after vowels, it's often a kind of A-coloured shwa vowel (with some regional variation when between a vowel and a P T K sound -- e.g. is "Sport", "Spoat" or "Spocht"?), and after P T K, the voiced uvular fricative is often devoiced into the unvoiced uvular fricative, i.e. the "Ach-Laut". (So "Kraft" may sound like "Kchaft", etc.)


Quick question. I understand what you're saying about the voiced uvular fricative being devoiced after a voiceless plosive, but then you say it's the same as in ach-laut which I understand to be a velar fricative. So is it just a voicing assimilation, or is it also a place assimilation that occurs? Like, if «r» follows a «t», is it still uvular or does it move farther forward? My instinct says that this isn't the case, but I want to ask to be sure.


I think of the Ach-Laut as a uvular fricative, not velar.

Having had a quick look at the Wikipedia article on German phonology, that may be because it's called an "Ach-Laut" rather than, say, an "Och-Laut" :)

Apparently, a uvular pronunciation is common after /a/ and a velar one after /o, u/ - which, if I think about it, matches my experience at least with /a/ and /o/, though I think in "Kuchen" it's further back than in, say, "hoch".

At any rate, both velar [x] and uvular [χ] are possible pronunciations.


Thank you! That certainly helps a lot now knowing that an uvular fricative is also an allophone of /ç/ (previously I thought the only allophones of /ç/ were [ç] and [x], but now thanks to your information I can add [χ] to that list). And even better is the fact that you were able to give the phonological environment it appears in (apparently (mid-)high back vowels trigger it).


Have a look at the section https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_German_phonology#Ich-Laut_and_ach-Laut ; it talks a bit more about this, including which vowels tend to trigger the velar allophone, which the uvular, and which can trigger either (depending, I suppose, on region or speaker).


Not really answering your question, but unfamiliar sounds are often difficult and uncomfortable at first; it is only by repeated use that they become comfortable. Therefore substituting a familiar sound, even if it's easily understood, will only hinder your acquisition of a good, native-like standard accent.
I have encountered many phonemes that I first thought were simply impossible to produce, then extremely difficult and uncomfortable, but that now pose me no problems. You simply have to persevere—and remember that very young children pick these things up without thought.


You're probably right, I should probably just keep practicing the correct pronunciation until it comes easier. I'm really only learning German for fun though, so I guess it just depends on whether or not learning to pronounce this sound adds or subtracts from my fun, lol.


I do not think, the uvular trill is the most common R in Germany. I am quite sure, it is the uvular fricative. But there are still a lot of people who speak a "tip of the tongue" R (flapped or trilled) like Spanish "r" and "rr", you can find this all over Germany.

If you just speak a uvular fricative (like the Danes) you are completely safe. This is the most common R on German TV, I'd say.

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