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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?

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Don't worry about it too much. Me as a native speaker learned to pronounce the double R until I was 10. –  Alfredo Osorio Jan 10 '12 at 23:29
I think this video might be helpful. I can't attest to its usefulness, since I can roll my Rs. –  Matt Ellen Jan 13 '12 at 20:36
I'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 Jan 7 '13 at 13:08
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. –  user5647 Sep 22 '14 at 19:27

9 Answers 9

up vote 5 down vote accepted

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.

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It'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 Jan 13 '12 at 18:09
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 May 29 '13 at 0:14
I was picturing you practicing with the word 'water' and tried to continue the 't' sound: ¡Guarra! ¡Guarra! ¡Guarra! XDD –  AdrianRM Dec 6 '13 at 12:40

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.

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.

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Does it actually help, or does it merely show up someone's inability? –  Peter Taylor Jan 10 '12 at 15:06
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 Jan 11 '12 at 18:52
You're right, but I didn't remember the word "Alveolar ridge" :D. thanks –  Petruza Jan 11 '12 at 21:28

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"

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+1 for "rotacismo". I'll have to look at the exercises. –  Jon Ericson Jan 10 '12 at 16:33

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'

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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 Jan 10 '12 at 16:34

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.

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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. +1 –  Jon Ericson Jan 10 '12 at 16:33

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...

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Having lived in Argentina for a while, this is mainly the case for 'rr' more than 'r' especially in the north –  Kage Jan 11 '12 at 20:16

I watched a youtube video that told to say "put it on" quicker and quicker until rolling your r. Could roll my r in twenty minutes after months of failiure prior.

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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 tonge 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 blowing out air continuously.

You don't need to quickly move the tonge 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.

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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.

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