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Readers Respond: Learning To Pronounce the Spanish RR

Responses: 37

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From the article: Pronouncing the RR
If you try pronouncing the RR of Spanish like you do in English, not only will you be wrong, you'll also mark yourself as someone who doesn't care about trying to pronounce correctly. Although the RR of Spanish is different than what you're used to, it isn't all that difficult, and millions of native English speakers have mastered it. If you're one of those, please offer your explanation to others so they can learn as well. Share Your Advice

Start with the French R

This is the advice that did it for me: I started by making the guttural French R sound, where the back of the tongue is vibrating, and holding the tongue close to the roof of the mouth, tried to sort of "blow the vibration forwards" to the alveolar ridge. Exercises that involve saying words over and over again (like "butter") didn't help me at all, though I grant that they have helped other people. A couple of other pointers: 1. Producing a trilled T (especially if you're learning for the first time) requires a lot of airflow -- as much as the English letter H, or even more. 2. At same time, you need to be very gently pushing your tongue upwards towards the alveolar ridge (not hard enough to block the airflow) while *relaxing* the front part of the tongue (so that it can vibrate). (Having the back of one's tongue partially tensed while the front is relaxed is something most English speakers never do, but once you learn it you get a strong sense that *anyone* can do it.)
—Guest Neil

Overture works!

The William Tell Overture: I have worked on this for years, and that was the key for me! Thank you so much, Katrina!
—Guest Eric

Could be a medical condition

A lot of people have no idea, but there is a condition called "tongue tie" or "ankyloglossia" in which case the lingual frenulum (the little string beneath most peoples' tongues) is either too short or extends to the tongue's tip and forms a "web" beneath the tongue. This can make the "rr" virtually impossible, no matter how much you practice. For some people, it isn't a matter of a lack of practice, nor a matter of being unfamiliar with the sound. The physical looseness and fluidity of the tongue simply isn't there when it is tethered by a restrictive frenulum. It is possible to have this surgically corrected, but most doctors know very little about it. Laser surgery (from a real surgeon, not an ENT or dentist) is one of the safer options for the removal of a tongue tie. Older methods such as snipping with scissors tend to lead to rebinding of the tongue and other problems. Having the tie removed is no guarantee that you will be able to pronounce this consonant, but it may help.
—Guest R

Advice from a flautist

As a flute player, I want to add that it requires using more air behind the tongue than people realize. Without that burst of air, you can do the soft R but not the RR nor the slightly trilled single R depending on its position in a word. Keep the tongue way forward in general for Spanish. English speakers talk with the tongue in the back of the mouth, especially Americans. In fact, a more subtle pronunciation issue involves the D's and L's, which actually have the tongue between the teeth to sound authentic. This is particularly true of the L at the end of words. It's called a palatalized L, which is identical to a Russian L, oddly enough. Back to Spanish, I recently studied it but heard my mother speak it fluently to others while growing up. I had an ear for the accent as a result, but have always been fascinated by how we produce sounds in speech, and from teaching flute, have had to learn to articulate how to physically do things I previously did without a thought. I hope my ideas help.
—Guest Tiggerflute

Use some "butter"

I found this is the easiest way to do it. You don't literally need butter; just try to say the word a few times as fast as you can. Eventually, if you do it right (don't open your mouth too much), you will soon be able to roll your R's.
—Guest rrrrrr

Reminds me of my grandmother

My grandmother used to snore while sleeping, uttering the indecipherable sound GRRRR. When I read any Spanish word with the alphabets RR, I think of my grandmother and, voila, I speak the word correctly. Also being Indian, the languages Tamil and Telugu have alphabets with RR. Since I know both languages it is not a problem for me. Practice and practice alone continuously and it will be easy for you.
—Guest K.S.Sundaram

William Tell Overture

I always thought I am short-tongued or just cannot pronounce rr, not just for Spanish and Italian but also Tamil where I came from in southeast Asia. I was looking at this post and everyone's helpful ideas, and i was practicing all of your suggestions but suddenly tried out something else on my own, and i think it is getting me there. Ten minutes later after continuous practicing, it actually got much better. It's the tune from horse racing, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7O91GDWGPU, go to 0:34 seconds, and do "trrtrrtrr-tt-tt" according to the speed of the music. I kept going "trrtrrtrr-tt-tt" over and over again and the "rr" seems better. Try it out!
—Guest Katrina

Cars and guns

Little kids sometimes make these sounds when imitating a machine gun and some do it when making car noises. Just put your tongue on the alveolar ridge (you can Google it; it's behind the teeth) and blow. At first don't worry about only doing it short. Do it long like machine gun. Then just work on controlling it where you only do it for a moment, like 3 trills.
—Guest Josh

Try hard

I tried hard and now I can do it! Try hard (instead of hardly trying).
—Guest Roger

Tea for you

This is helpful advice I had for pronouncing the Spanish r. Say "pot of tea," but rapidly. Close equivalent to "para ti."
—Guest Marge Manke

Not too stiff

I couldn't roll my rr's at all at first. Then I just flicked my tongue when saying "perro" it was an almost roll. I did that and said as many words as I knew with the rr. Eventually I got it. Don't make your tongue too stiff, keep it flat against your top teeth kind of and bend the tip so it's between the bumps on the roof of your mouth and your teeth. Then you practice as often as you can. Keep your tongue relaxed. When it's too stiff, it's much harder to roll your rr's. It'll be hard at first, but you'll notice yourself getting better with time. Good luck!
—Guest RRRR

That sound

All American kids make the "scary" sound. Uhohohohohoooo. That should get you started.
—Guest Andy

Don't smile and try to roll!

If you're at the point where sometimes you can roll your rr's and other times you can't, but cannot figure out why. Here are some things I noticed as I practiced: 1) Certain sounds before and after the rr put your mouth/lips in positions where you can't roll an r. You have to close your mouth! As you get better, you'll be able to get your mouth in the correct position faster and the sounds will merge more. 2) If you're laughing or smiling your lips are turned up and your mouth is open, so you won't be able to roll! 3) Do not make an English r sound, it also puts your mouth in the wrong position. Hope this helps!
—Guest Nicole

Don't give up

I started practicing the RR over a year ago and am still on websites looking for tips. Even so, I'm sure it's simply a matter of practice. Like all walks of life, some people are lucky and some have to work hard!
—Guest J

If I can do it, so can you

I learned Arabic some years ago, and gave up trying to trill the "rr" sound -- I thought I was "genetically" unable as I have some degree of tongue-tie. However, I am so motivated with Spanish that I gave it extra attention. I like the advice someone else gave, try it out somewhere when you aren't going to feel overheard, because there is definitely a need to really expel more air than you are used to, to make the trill. I too used practice words -- "carro," "burro," "corre," "aburrido" and I'm still jotting them doen to practice. It suddenly happened one day when I was in the car, and it's improving every day. I was ecstatic the first time I realized I'd succeeded. Definitely worth it for that natural "high." :)
—Guest sally

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Learning To Pronounce the Spanish RR

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