One of the trickiest parts of learning Spanish as an English native speaker is rolling the R . Just like when you struggle with pronouncing the ll in Spanish, if you get this wrong, you’ll always sound like a foreigner. But with a little practice, you can roll your Rs like a native speaker and instantly sound better in Spanish!
Rrrrready to learn how to roll your Rs?
Let’s listen to some actual sound bites and exercises for rolling your Rs in Spanish, brought to you by teacher Paulisima from Spring Spanish (a language learning platform I cofounded):
Important: this blog post is a bit theoretical. Obviously, the easiest way to know how to pronounce the letter G in Spanish words and sentences is by actually hearing it. I recommend you use a pronunciation dictionary like Forvo.
To practice, I recommend a service like Speechling where coaches rate your pronunciation and give you feedback so you can improve. They have a free version; for unlimited feedback, make sure to use the code LUKASV to get 10% off your subscription for life 🙂
1. How to Roll Your Rs: a Little Bit of Theory
What is the alveolar trill?
This rolling “r” is also called the alveolar trill and this sound is used in many Latin languages such as: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Scottish English, Polish and others.
In one of the pages of the Wikipedia explains that:
The sound of this consonant is formed by placing the tip of your tongue against the ridge just behind the top row of your teeth. This is what is meant by “alveolar”. The sound is then made by vibrating your tongue against that ridge. This makes it a trill consonant.
2. Can You Be Taught to Roll Your Rs?
Of course, you can be taught to roll your Rs, it is just a matter of time and practice.
Did you know that many native Spanish speakers couldn’t pronounce the rolling “r” when they were children? It is true, many Spanish people had trouble with this pronunciation and also had to learn how to do it, exactly like you are doing now.
So, let’s learn it too!!!!
In this post you are going to learn how to pronounce the “r”, whether it is a soft “r” or a strong rolling “rrrrrrrrrrr”.
3. How Do I Teach Myself to Roll My Rs?
There are two sounds for the letter “r”, one of them is soft, also called the tapped “r”, and the other pronunciation is the strong one, also called the rolling “r”.
The Tapped “r”
This “r” should be easy for you because you can find it in English in words like Mary, drum, brief.
To pronounce this “r” you can place the tip of your tongue like in the consonants “d” or “l” in English, that means that the tip can be touching the root of the teeth, meanwhile in the rolling “r” you place it deeper, where the palate begins to rise.
The Rolling “r”
As a native Spanish speaker, I advise you to roll the strong “r” placing the tip of your tongue right on the top of your palate, not too close to your teeth, but where the roof of your mouth begins to go upwards.
Once you have it located on this part of your palate, the next step is how to trill it to be able to make this sound. For this matter, I have done a little survey between my family and friends, and we all roll the tip of the tongue letting the air go through the right side of the tip, not exactly in the middle of it.
Just place the tip of your tongue in different places where the palate begins to go upwards and try to let it vibrate giving way to the air through different parts of the tip of your tongue, relax this part while you are doing it.
You should not force the movement of your tongue, it needs to be relaxed and you only have to let it trill when the air comes out.
Just do it in a playful way and enjoy the experience. I also think it would be better if you are alone!!! So that family and neighbors do not think you are going crazy learning Spanish!!!
4. What Do You Say to Roll Your Rs?
- The sound of a soft “r” is pronounced as follows:
- It can be like the sound in American English of butter, better or water.
- You can find other examples of the soft sound “r” in the words terabyte or caring.
- You can also think of the way you pronounce the linking “r” in the group of words such as car accident, water ice or stir it.
- The strong “r” is pronounced as follows:
- Try to pronounce the word ladder repeatedly, to say the sound “dd” and the sound “r” very close to each other, you will be forced to roll the sound “r”.
- You can also make the sound a motorbike, rhrhrhrhrhrhrhrh, or say Ricky repeating the “r”.
- Also try to say these words as if they were two separated words and do it faster and faster: lor-ry, stir-ring, car-ry, bar-rier. You have to pronounce two “r” and trill it.
5. Why is Rolling R’s So Hard?
Rolling “r” is hard to pronounce when you don’t have this sound in your mother tongue, for example, for English speakers, there is no such a sound in this language, that is why you must learn the position of the tongue to be able to pronounce it, because you did not learn it when you were a child.
If you have a native Spanish friend, ask for help and practice in front of him or her, receive feedback of when you do it better and repeat it.
6. Why is It Important to Know How to Roll Your Rs?
Although we can understand many things by the context, this little letter “r” can make a difference when it is a soft or a strong one, let’s check some vocabulary differences
Differences between soft “R” and strong “R”
|Soft “R”||Strong “R”|
|Boro (boron)||Borro (I erase)|
|Careta (mask)||Carreta (wagon)|
|Caro (expensive)||Carro (car)|
|Cero (zero)||Cerro (hill)|
|Coral (coral)||Corral (farmyard)|
|Coro (choir)||Corro (I run)|
|Foro (forum)||Forro (lining)|
|Mira (he/she watches)||Mirra (myrrh)|
|Moral (moral)||Morral (backpack)|
|Para (for)||Parra (grapevine)|
|Pero (but)||Perro (dog)|
7. How Can I Know When I Must Pronounce the Soft or the Strong “r”?
You must pronounce the tapping or soft “R” when:
- It goes between two vowels
- caro (expensive), cara (face), pera (pear), pero (but).
- When it goes in the middle of a word and the previous consonant is b, c, d, f, g, p or t
- abrir (open), micrófono (microphone), agricultura (agriculture), Francia (France), grande (big), tranquilo (quiet)
The rolling “R” is pronounced in the following cases:
- Always at the beginning of a word
- ratón (mouse), risa (laugh), Roma (Rome)
- Always at the end of a word
- All the infinitives, because they finish in -ar, -er and -ir
- comprar (to buy), beber (to drink), vivir (to live).
- Other words
- interior (interior), exterior (exterior), peor (worse), mejor (better), ayer (yesterday).
- All the infinitives, because they finish in -ar, -er and -ir
- In the middle of a word, when it is written as double “rr”, between vowels
- perro (dog), marrón (brown), arroz (rice).
- After the prefix sub-, it is written only one “r”, but the pronunciation is like the rolling “r”
- subrayar (to underline), subrogar (to subrogate).
- In the middle of a word, when the “r” goes after the consonants l, n, s
- alrededor (around), sonrisa (smile), Israel.
8. How to Master the Art of Rolling Your Rs in Spanish with Conversation Based Chunking
Use the resources in this article to practice rolling your rs in Spanish every day and you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. Don’t underestimate the power of listening to a lot of Spanish either (e.g., through Spanish podcasts or Spanish YouTube channels): it’ll help your brain to get used to (and distinguish between) all sounds in Spanish, which makes it easier for you to pronounce them as well.
For more help to improve your Spanish pronunciation and speaking and listening skills, make sure to request your free Spanish chunking starter pack, which comes with resources, walkthrough videos, and an intro to Conversation Based Chunking (a method to learn any language without cramming word lists and grammar rules).