American English Pronunciation: R Colored Vowels

When I do accent reduction coaching with my clients from Japan, Korea, China, Latin America (and sometimes India, France & Haiti) we work on the sounds of the American R.

As you can see….he American English r is a very difficult sound for many non-native speakers to articulate correctly! ✔

The American English r sounds like /ɚ/. The sound is made by bunching the middle of the tongue high in the back of the mouth and rounding the lips. The tip of the tongue curls up a bit, but it never touches the roof of the mouth.

When a vowel is followed by an r, the vowel sound changes. These are called r-controlled vowels, or r-colored vowels.

Here are some of the phonemes you will hear.

The letters ar can sound like /ɑɚ/ as in: car, guitar & star.

The letters ear can sound like /iɚ/ as in: near, fear & beard.

The letters or usually sound like /ɔɚ/ as in: or, more & course.

The letters ir, er and ur, sound like /ɚ/ as in: bird, were, & fur.

Since the sounds of r-colored vowels are so complicated, many pronunciation books and courses simplify these.

The best book that I know of for learning the r-colored vowel sounds is Ann Cook’s American Accent Training. You can see the book by clicking on the link below.

American Accent Training (Book and Audio CD, 2nd Edition)

Remember that perfecting the pronunciation of R will not give you a perfect accent. Some people think this is true….

Speaking clear American English, in a way that Americans will understand you, depends on using both sounds & stress patterns correctly.

I teach you all of these features for clear spoken English in my Skype accent reduction coaching program.