Can I learn to roll my R's?

32

9

Whenever I try to say words like perro or arroyo, I sound like I'm telling a pirate joke. I can identify the sound I'm supposed to make and I've been told how my tongue is supposed to move, but I can't seem to reproduce the sound at all. It's just embarrassing.

It may be that part of my problem is with the letter r as it's spoken in Spanish. People who I communicate with sometimes have difficulty with my pronunciation of words that have single rs such as aire.

Is there a solution to my problem or will I have to live with this particular speech impediment?

Jon Ericson

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 1 179

I have been trying to roll my r's for many, many years. I was told to repeat "butter, butter, butter...) Just trying "put it on" for the first time and am having promising results. Thanks. – None – 2014-09-22T19:27:40.380

1

This is anecdotical, not an aswer, but might be interesting info: In a few regions (e.g. some inland parts of Argentina) it's pronounced more like a 'ye' (sort of 'sh'). For example, listen the beginning of this speech of ex-president from Argentina, C. S. Menem: > ... los recursos que actualmente cuenta nuestro país en materia de salud > con un compromiso renovador...

leonbloy 2012-01-11T19:20:37.667

2Practice, Practice, Practice, PracticeDGaleano 2015-10-30T01:25:47.077

2Don't worry about it too much. Me as a native speaker learned to pronounce the double R until I was 10.Alfredo Osorio 2012-01-10T23:29:52.243

I think this video might be helpful. I can't attest to its usefulness, since I can roll my Rs.

Matt Ellen 2012-01-13T20:36:12.563

1I'm a native speaker of both Catalan and Spanish, and I also need help of a speech terapist to pronounce it properly. As Alfredo said, don't worry too much about it.Addison Montgomery 2013-01-07T13:08:05.087

Answers

11

When I started learning Spanish in high school, I was not able to roll my r's. I learned over a weekend by practicing almost constantly (perhaps to the annoyance of some of those around me).

The movement of the tongue when pronouncing the single r is the same as when you pronounce the t in "water". I practiced by making that sound by itself, then trying to make it continue (rolling).

I know someone else who went through third year college Spanish courses without being able to roll the r, then slowly learned over the course of a semester spent abroad in Mexico by practicing repeatedly while walking to class. I know others who got their college Spanish degrees without ever learning.

Petruza's answer is right in that it's not a barrier to communication, and that tongue twister is great practice. But it certainly won't sound quite right; you might get some weird looks from native speakers.

Mr. Jefferson

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 284

2It's only true that a single r is like a t in some dialects of English. You wouldn't be doing a Strayan or a Cockney any favors by telling them that.Michael Wolf 2012-01-13T18:09:00.370

The Spanish single "r" is exactly like an intervocalic "d" in most English dialects (linguists call it an alveolar flap). In American English and some other dialects an intervocalic "t" is often pronounced exactly the same way, but for the rest of us there is a distinction (which linguists call "voicing") that makes "d" different from "t" in the same way that "b" is different from "p". Now the Spanish double "r" is made with the tongue in the same position but with a "trill". You probably trill your lips sometimes to express that you're cold. Now practice putting this all together (-:hippietrail 2013-05-29T00:14:23.170

10

I wouldn't say you have a problem, if your goal is to communicate in Spanish, you'll be fine.
If what you want is have the best pronunciation possible, then yes, learning to roll you rr, and even pronouncing the regular r may be important.
I guess you should get a native speaker or someone who can already do it and tutor you and try many times to imitate them until you get it right.

There's a tongue-twister that helps with rolling the rr:

Erre con erre guitarra,
erre con erre barril,
mira qué rápido ruedan
las ruedas del ferrocarril.

Erre con erre cigarro,
Erre con erre barril
rapido ruedan los carros cargados de azucar al ferrocarril.

Remember that r in the initial position of a word is also rolled as an rr.

And also you have to pay attention to where does the tongue touch the palate when pronouncing it, in the english r you touch the roof of the palate and your molars, and in the spanish r and rr you touch the alveolar ridge with the tip of the tongue.

Edit: Anyway, I don't think you should worry too much about rolling Rs, as not even all spanish speakers do. In regions of Argentina and many other countries the Rs are not rolled, but rather pronounced something between sh and kind of a whistling sound, much like zh from Russian or Chinese.

Petruza

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 859

3Does it actually help, or does it merely show up someone's inability?Peter Taylor 2012-01-10T15:06:25.447

4

I disagree about touching your front teeth with your tongue. That's not how I've done it, and I was explicitly told in high school Spanish that the tongue contacts the alveolar ridge when rolling the r. It's just behind the front upper teeth.

Mr. Jefferson 2012-01-11T18:52:59.017

1You're right, but I didn't remember the word "Alveolar ridge" :D. thanksPetruza 2012-01-11T21:28:12.623

6

I'm no expert, but I've found the following links (try "ejercicios pronunciacion r" in your search engine) , which might help:

Some simple exercises
Lots of exercises

By the way, the dificulty to pronounce the R, is called "rotacismo"

MikMik

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 5 304

2+1 for "rotacismo". I'll have to look at the exercises.Jon Ericson 2012-01-10T16:33:21.050

3

Some people will tell you that if you can't do a Spanish 'r' then you will never be able to.

However, I do know people that have learned and have gone from not being able to do it at all, to being able to do it quite convincingly.

That being said, I also know someone who speaks with a slight lisp in English and even though she speaks perfect Spanish and has for many years, she still can not do a Spanish 'r' to save her life.

IMO I would say that it is not impossible to learn.

If you want to practice getting it right, you need to listen to it a lot and practice aloud. Even if you can get a similar sound for example a japanese 'r', this IMO sounds a lot better than an English 'r'

Kage

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 1 267

Learn to pronounce 'r' Japanese in order to pronounce it in Spanish seems a long way to go. Do you happen to have a source for that?Jon Ericson 2012-01-10T16:34:45.603

2

There are various approaches which speech therapists would suggest, but what I've observed (as someone who for many years couldn't roll an r) is that it's a lot easier when singing, probably because there's more air flow or more conscious control of air flow than when speaking. Having observed that in myself, I started noticing that native speakers when singing will sometimes roll an r which is supposed to be only flapped. So you could try karaoke or singing along to Spanish-language songs in the privacy of your own home.

Peter Taylor

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 633

I've been singing Spanish-language songs just about every week for years (in a Spanish-language church service). But I haven't focused on pronunciation during those times and not on the R in particular. Practice at home in song seems like a good idea, however. +1Jon Ericson 2012-01-10T16:33:00.893

1

I think the last tip is the best. Just put your tongue tip in back of your front teeth and blow out simultaneously say an r-word. It will flutter your tongue and make the r roll quite easily. Then just practice saying words starting with r, ending in r and having different vowel variations with rs on either side. Or just drop your rs and say yaw from new yawk.

willkitt

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 11

1

A trick or a tip may work for some people, but I recommend you simply learn the mechanics.

Rolling the R is not a mysterious talent--it's simply a skill you can learn. You just need to have it broken down into simple steps that you can follow.

When we teach the rolled R, we start with three lessons, and 7 exercises:

LESSON 1. Develop tongue awareness

Don't skip this step. Most or all the difficulty comes down to lack of awareness of what's going on inside the mouth.

Exercise 1: The peanut-butter scrape

Imagine you have peanut butter on the roof of your mouth. Scrape it off with the tip of your tongue, exploring the entire inside of your mouth.

Exercise 2: The alphabet

Say each letter of the alphabet and take the time to feel exactly where your tongue is placed and/or what motion it follows.

LESSON 2. Learn to vibrate the lips and tongue

Don't tackle the alveolar trill until you really understand the mechanics of the easier trills. Every trill has these three things:

  1. Air flow
  2. Air gap
  3. Vibrating body part

Exercise 3: The lip trill

The easiest trill to start with is the lip trill. This is the sound we make when we go "Brrr--it's cold". Blow air out between your lips while gradually closing them, holding them in a relaxed state.

Exercise 4: The closed tongue trill

With your mouth closed, create a small gap between the blade of your tongue and the roof of your mouth. Blow out and you will hear something like a "Shhhh" sound. Keeping your tongue relaxed, close the gap until it is almost shut. Your tongue will begin to vibrate.

Exercise 5: The alveolar trill

While doing the closed trill, gradually open your mouth, keeping just the tip of your tongue tied to the alveolar ridge. Use the same technique to make the tip of your tongue vibrate.

LESSON 3. Incorporate the trill into actual words

Once you can make a pure, alveolar trill, you'll need to practice incorporating it into words.

Exercise 6: Vowel + Trill

Practice alternating between an "Ahhh" sound and your alveolar trill. Finally, connect them.

Exercise 7: Consonant + Vowel + Trill

Now it's a simple step to add words:

mar (sea)
dar (to give)
bar (bar)
por (for)
color (color)
pintor (painter)

Of course, there's still lots more that you can do to refine your sound and make it more native-like.

But, as others have pointed out, the rolled R is acquired later by native speakers than any other sound. And it's quite common for native speakers to need help learning it. So don't expect to master it overnight!

But with a modest amount of systematic practice, anyone can learn it.

Phil Mitchell

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 126

Welcome to the site, Phil, hope you'll continue to participate with questions, answers and comments.aparente001 2017-09-15T16:00:46.870

1

I watched a YouTube video that advised saying "put it on" quicker and quicker until accomplishing the ability to roll your /r/. Could roll my /r/ in twenty minutes after months of failure prior.

julian

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 11

0

Preface: After roughly 5 years of anguish, asperity, tribulation, wail, and woe; no resource helped my continual failure to pronounce [r] (the IPA symbol for alveolar trill). But today, I ail no more! Hallelujah!

An hour ago before writing this post, I fortuitously encountered this Quora answer by Clarissa Lohr that successfully guided me to pronounce [br]. Though I have yet to perfect [r] itself, I now need only to learn to drop the [b] in [br], to pronounce [r].

I emend it slightly to ameliorate readability, and to correct the IPA symbols used. For me, step 4 happened to be my first time and precise instant of pronouncing [r], to my eternal joy!


Here's how I learned it:

1. I would endlessly repeat the word [bəˈda].
The first sound should be labial, but it can be a voiced [b] or a voiceless, but very unaspirated [p], as you prefer.
The second sound should be short, unstressed and possibly easy to produce. I prefer Schwa (the vowel in about) since it's the least marked vowel for me, but if your native language doesn't have this sound, you may replace it by another vowel. [The IPA represents this sound, schwa, with [ə]] What matters is that this vowel comes naturally to you, and that you can pronounce it effortlessly.
The third sound should be a [d]
and the last sound should be a low vowel, i.e. [a] or something similar. This vowel should be stressed and you can lengthen it a bit if you like.

2. Then I would gradually shorten the first vowel, the Schwa. I tried to make it as short as I could. This took quite a while, so don't be impatient. I used to repeat the word for weeks, every time I was having a shower.

3. Finally I had shortened the vowel into non-existence. I was actually saying [bda]. The word had become monosyllabic.

4. At this point the [d] automatically changed into [ɾ̼]: the alveolar flap. Then I somehow tried to hold the [ɾ̼] instead of immediately lowering my tongue to produce the [a]. It worked and the sound changed to [r].

5. Once I had mastered this I varied the phonological context for [r]. Non-coronal adjacent consonants are easier, so I first tried [kr]. [tr], [sr] etc. are a little trickier, and until this day I can't say [ʃr]. I also tried preconsonantal [r]. This was a little harder but finally I could say it.

Canada - Area 51 Proposal

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 151

0

In addition to my other answer which uses an English phone to proximate [r], I am posting these videos which depict and animate how to phonate [r].

  1. See this 3 second clip, whose author has many more animations of other Spanish phones.

  2. This supernally helpful answer revealed animations for all IPA phones, including [r].

Canada - Area 51 Proposal

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 151

0

To roll the r (ARRR!) you need (as some have said) to pronounce like the t of water or put it on, and make it continue. How?

When you put the tongue in the correct position, with the tip on the alveolar ridge, the rest of the tongue is closing any exit for the air. If you then fix (anchor) the tongue in that position (tip included), when you try to exhale air through your mouth it can not get out. To pronounce the t we let the tip of the tongue to be softer than the rest of it so that the air comes out between the tongue tip and the alveolar ridge.

The same applies for the rolled r, but with a bit more strength in the tip and with air blowing out continuously.

You don't need to quickly move the tongue back and forth the alveolar ridge to let the air out. You just keep the tongue and tip in the same position and strength (softer in the tip-to-ridge, stronger in the rest of the tongue) and keep the air pressure continuously. Then your tongue keeps flipping while the air passes between tip and ridge, just because of the air flow.

Lucas

Posted 2012-01-10T00:04:49.163

Reputation: 935