HOW TO SAY A NON-AWFUL FRENCH “R”
When I first started learning French, I read a bunch of books that said the French R is more of an open sound, and that it’s more from the throat, and I watched some tutorials, then I listened to myself on a recording, then deleted the recording, then got depressed, then read new books, then did a recording again, then listened again, then threw the recorder off a cliff, ate ice cream, then climbed down that cliff looking for the recorder in some jagged rocks where I found it shattered in ugly pieces that reminded me of my first marriage, then climbed back up the cliff, then read another book, then gargled with motor oil, and gave up entirely.
LESSON ON HOW TO SAY THE FRENCH R
Step 1: Form the American R then open up your throat more.
Step 2: Don’t do that.
Frankly, after a few years of living here in Paris, I think the whole “Please start with the America R” advice is premature. The French R is not “more of” something. The French R doesn’t exist in America so any lessons about using it shouldn’t even reference the American R because trying to force a European sound onto a pre-existing American sound is like murdering a baby squirrel with a slow-motion bazooka.
So what can you do?
If you have a page of French paragraphs in front of you and you want to reduce how American-ish you’re sounding, here’s a super easy exercise. It’s simple. First, do a Find/Replace on the letter R and make every R — every single R — not just the front letters — into a capital R. Ignore the infinitives, obviously. You can capitalize each R or you can replace each R with an emoji, like using maybe the emoji for — I don’t know — poo. The result will force your eyes to look ahead on the page when you read the page out loud and see each poo. Make sense? What you’re doing is pre-preparing your mouth as it goes through each sentence so that the instant your brain arrives at a word with an R in it, your mouth is already saying it.
Does this way of talking make your face look stupid?
Should you attempt this in public?
The point is that your mouth-musculature as an American isn’t trained to rapidly shape the French deep-cave R. You basically need to open up your lower throat to where you look like that giant demon-thing in The Lord of the Rings who breathes fire and socialism at underpaid Gandalf. This means that to get the French R formed quickly enough mid-speech, you as a beginner need to — at the risk of making all the other letters sound wrong — permanently hold your mouth in the R position, so that each R you say is less Americanized and more French-esque. In fact, fuck it, you remember way back a minute ago when I said do a Find/Replace with a capital R? You know what? Don’t even use an R. You should actually insert an H. Yup. An H. You’re better off making an American H through your tunnel-shaped-demon-mouth than an actual R. That’s how bad the translation is. The H is closer to your goal and, actually, if you look at the reverse of this situation — if you listen to a French person try to pronounce an American R — that French person usually throws an H onto your word. For example, instead of saying “role,” a French person says “hole.”
Literally, they say “hole.”
FRENCH FRIEND: I was cast in a movie and they give me a big hole.
ME: A what?
FRENCH FRIEND: What?
ME: A… big…?
FRENCH FRIEND: Yes, I wanted a hole and now I have a big hole.
FRENCH FRIEND: Yes.
FRENCH FRIEND: I don’t understand.
ME: I don’t understand.
FRENCH FRIEND: In ziss movie.
The bottom line is the two languages don’t overlap when it comes to the letter R, so your first step is to adopt a brand-new, totally different, lower-calorie, higher-sexuality R and throw you old, soft, fat American R off a cliff onto some jagged rocks where it’ll lie in shambles next to that previous marriage of mine. Best of luck.