It seems that one of the greatest difficulties some native-English speakers have is learning to trill their R's. Some, it seems, are completely incapable of performing this task.

Is this ever a problem for native-born Spanish speakers? If so, is this considered a speech impediment (such as having difficulty with the letter "R" is in English?)

ESPAÑOL - ¿Hay hablantes de español nativo que no puedan resonar las "R"?

Parece que una de las mayores dificultades que algunos hablantes de Inglés nativo tienen es aprender a resonar sus "R". Algunos, al parecer, son completamente incapaces de llevar a cabo esta tarea.

¿Es esto alguna vez un problema para los hablantes nativos de Español? Si es así, ¿se considera un impedimento en el habla (como lo es en Inglés el tener dificultad con la letra "R")?

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    What do you mean, difficulty with "R" in english? I'll have you know that when I pahk my cah in Hahvahd Yahd, the people I meet all pronounce their "R"s in exactly the same way! ;) – Walter Mitty Mar 20 '13 at 10:44

10 Answers 10


This is a very common defect, called rotacismo. This is one of the last sounds the children learn.

In fact, I was unable to pronounce it correctly until I had some corrective training.

Usually, it's not considered a speech impediment, but it will make the speaker sound dorky.

It's worth noting than some regions (for example, many provinces in Argentina) do not pronounce the R in a standard way. Their pronunciation is approximately a voiced retroflex sibilant.

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    Is there a name for this condition like we in English have the word "lisp" for people who have trouble pronouncing the "s" sound? – hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 15:45
  • @hippietrail, I'm not aware of a scientific name for it. – Diego Mijelshon Nov 16 '11 at 19:06
  • What about a slang or any other kind of name for it? – hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 19:10
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    Not as an adjective. But you can say about someone with this problem le patina la erre (slightly derogatory depending on the context) or no le sale la erre (descriptive). – Diego Mijelshon Nov 16 '11 at 19:24
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    Yet another reason my Spanish just sounds dorky. As with English, it seems the very phrases used to describe the condition are unpronounceable for those of us who suffer from the defect. – Jon Ericson Nov 28 '11 at 21:16

Certainly, there are Spanish native speakers who can't roll the r, but this is not a common problem and rarely represents a difficulty to children.

According to logopedics (logopedia) — the study, and correction, of speech defects, especially in children —, this is called "rotacismo" or "dislalia del fonema r".

Dislalia is classified as a speech disorder. It sounds very weird to native Spanish speakers and according to logopedists it can lead to low self-esteem, social isolation and even statter.

If you allow me to add a personal anecdote here, I've only heard a handful of native speakers having difficulties to roll the r in my whole life, and in this particular moment I can't even remember a person among friends, relatives, students, teachers, colleagues etc... who has this problem.

Please note that even if there are regions where the r is not rolled (some evidence here would be welcome) does not invalidate this truth: that not being able to roll the r in the same way as the rest of the population is a rare phenomenon and of course considered a speech impediment, which can most of the times be corrected by a logopedist.

Please also note that rolling the r is not exclusive to Spanish. Other languages, such as Russian, Polish and German as spoken in Bavaria, roll the r in (nearly) the same way. The same that we are discussing here applies to those languages.

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Yes, there are. This whole advertising campaing was based on that. It's one of the most remembered campaings in Argentina and "tapa rosca" has since become a nickname for someone who can't thrill the R here.



Some native Spanish can't trill their R's properly, but I wouldn't say this is a big impediment. As long as there aren't many Rs in a row, such as in "Erre con erre guitarra", this shouldn't be very important.


I am familiar with two examples on non-standard pronunciation of rr:

  • Regional differences don't really address the original question, because children in those regions learn how to speak as the people around them do, barring any speech defects. But just to add to the list, in Puerto Rico, the RR is guttaral like a French R and not trilled. And in central Peru the RR is frequently pronounced as what a linguist described as a "voiced retroflex fricative", a phoneme I have heard nowhere else on earth. – Walter Mitty Oct 8 '12 at 1:54
  • Después de leer el artículo en Wikipedia, tengo la opinión que la /rr/ Bogotana y la de la sierra del Perú son iguales. Hace años yo me imaginé que provino del quechua. Pero tal vez no. – Walter Mitty Oct 8 '12 at 13:24

Are you talking about the Spanish "ere" or the Spanish "erre"? There are some English speakers who can imitate the "ere" passably well, but get all tongue tied when they try to pronounce an "erre".

If you listen to Irish singers, like Celtic Woman or Celtic Thunder, you'll find that Gaelic uses an "R" that is much like the Spanish "ere". So do most dialects of German or Italian. There are undoubtedly other languages that do this. I even think I hear an occarional "erre" in Gaelic, but I'm not sure.

English speakers have a hard time with this sound in any of those languages, including Gaelic, or English with an Irish regional accent. You have to move your tongue in a different way. When you are three years old, learning to do this comes naturally. By the time you are 23, it doesn't come naturally any more. At age 13, when a lot of English speakers start learning Spanish, the ability to mimic sounds without coaching is largely gone, but may still be present in some people. Many language teachers do not do this kind of coaching, and a few don't even pronounce "erre" correctly themselves.


My boyfriend is a native Spanish speaker from Mexico, and he can only make the uvular trill. It hasn't caused any problems in communication, though people do joke about his "French" accent.

There are times when he fails to make any trill at all because he instinctively makes an alveolar approximant (like the English R). This happened even before he learned English.

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    ¡Bienvenida a Spanish.StackExchange! – JoulSauron Sep 30 '12 at 0:31

I'm 35, and I have a friend who's 38. Both of us can't thrill the 'rr'. Everybody notices eventually, has never caused us any problems, never did anything about it. At this point, I don't know if there's anything I can do. I particularly care about it because I'm learning German and Polish :) By the way, this is in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where rioplatense-Spanish has (sometimes over-)thrilled 'rr'.


Just adding a humor note to this thread. This is a popular "trabalenguas", that forces the R rolling to its limits:

El perro de San Roque no tiene rabo porque Ramón Ramírez se lo ha cortado. El perro de Ramón Ramírez no tiene rabo porque se lo han robado. ¿Quién le ha robado el rabo al perro de San Roque? ¿Ramón Ramírez ha robado el rabo del perro de San Roque?

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I had problems with that when I was a child, and in high school I had a couple of friends with that problem (I think they never corrected it). But I think unless you talk a lot with that person you will not notice it in many cases.

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