It may sound obvious, but effective, satisfactory learning requires a solid grasp of basic skills and rules. For Spanish students, a strong foundation includes, among others, mastering the conjugation of regular and irregular verbs; choosing the correct pronouns; using ser and estar accurately and with confidence; and pronouncing Spanish sounds properly. These are skills that you can learn with a little bit of attention, patience and practice. Even the pronunciation bit, and yes, even rolling your r’s.
That’s right, with a bit of persistence and ingenuity, you too can learn to roll your r’s and feel proud of your Spanish skills. Here are some pointers:
- The Spanish r (la erre) and the English r (the r) are nothing alike. La erre wants to hug the lower part of the palate, while the r is just fine from a distance. So, pointer one, forget about the (English) r.
- The English t and d are a bit huggier. They actually make physical contact with the alveolar ridge.
- Glad you asked. The alveolar ridge (ar) is the part of the front of your mouth where your gums end and your palate starts. Try this: place the tip of your tongue in the back of your front teeth. Now start tracing your way as far back in your palate as you can. First you’ll feel your gums, then you’ll hit that bump, the alveolar ridge, and then you’ll start going up the “roof” of your mouth.
- Rolling your r’s is all about playing with the airflow going between your tongue and the ar. So, notice that when you say names like Tammy or Dana the tip of your tongue actually goes to the alveolar ridge.
- So, pick a word starting with either t or d and think of the tip of your tongue as it taps, it doesn’t linger, that spot between your gums and your palate. Now, stop the word either on the t or the d and don’t even pronounce the sound. Simply trick your tongue into getting to that spot and leave it there.
- Now that your tongue is touching your ar, be patient and play around. It’s not going to happen automatically. Do it slowly, and try words like Roma, Rosa, Rojo.
- Most likely, if you have tried to imitate the sound of a cat purring or if you have blown a raspberry, then you have produced sounds that resemble the Spanish r. Relax your tongue and let the air play with it.
- Whatever you do, don’t tell yourself you can’t - It’s not a good learning strategy.
- Do, however, persist and try different methods. There are countless tutorials on the web and on YouTube that can help you find your roll. Pick a series of Spanish words starting with r (like the suggestions above) and simply try to say them. There’s a good chance you will get the sound by simply going by trial and error.
Here are some videos:
- How to make your clumsy tongue roll the R (by Angel K, loves the Kane Chronicles, YouTube is her backup plan),
- How to Roll Rs/ Alveolar Trill? Tip+Demo (Even Chinese can do it!) (by Elektra Yu, all about motherhood, martial arts and music)
- "How To Roll Your R's and Tongue Trills" - Voice Lessons To The World (by internationally-recognized Voice Teacher and Founder of New York Vocal Coaching, Justin Stoney)
Learning is challenging and humbling, but it’s also enriching. Overcoming challenges and building a strong foundation of basic skills can help you be a successful Spanish student and speaker. But it will take a bit of patience and work. As you will see from the videos above, different people suggest different options. Use this article, the suggested videos or your own imagination to figure out how to roll your r’s. There isn’t a single method that works for all, except for persistence.