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I have begun to learn Spanish and spent a good amount of time in Spain, but locals fail to be able to explain how to trill 'r's. I presume that it is because they learn from birth and therefore it is natural to them.

I have seen this related question Can I learn to roll my R's? and know that this is a common barrier when beginning to learn Spanish, but would like to know these further things:

  • Are their any required tongue or mouth movements that provoke trilling and where in the mouth should the tongue be placed to begin the action of trilling? (diagrams?)

  • Are their any good methods of learning and practising to trill?

  • What are the signs that I'm doing it wrong(important!) or right?

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Have a look at this link about phonetics in Spanish, trilling r is under "vibrantes, [r]". –  JoulSauron Jan 4 '13 at 8:45
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

I will try to explain this from a point of view of a native speaker who has never taught Spanish, so this is just a shoddy explanation that will be deleted if any better answer arrives.

I would say that you should try putting the borders of your tongue on your palate, leaving some space between your tongue and your palate at the middle. It is like your tongue and your palate are the two sides of a closed seashell.

Now you need to keep the outer half of your tongue relaxed, and the inner half less relaxed. Take some air and throw it slowly through your mouth and you should feel the tip of your tongue vibrating rapidly. You should be able to do this even without activating your vocal cords.

The borders of the inner half of your tongue should never get separated from your palate, so that the air will be forced to go through the tip of your tongue only.

Good luck.

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Really good explanation!! –  Sergio Romero Jan 7 '13 at 18:55
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"You should be able to do this even without activating your vocal cords." True. I wonder why most explanations insist on the voiced aspect, that's not essential at all. It's perfectly possible, though not used in normal speech, to make the trill in "non voiced" mode (eg, say "perro" whispering), the mechanic is the same. –  leonbloy Jan 10 '13 at 3:27
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