5 Tips To Roll Your Rs In Spanish, Italian… Or Any Other Language!

how to roll your RsLearning how to roll your Rs is one of those language learning ordeals that can really make you feel stupid!

Whether you’re learning Spanish, Italian, or any other language that uses this sound, chances are you’ve struggled to roll your Rs naturally.

Like me, you probably spent hours twisting your mouth into weird shapes, desperately trying to figure out how to get that beautiful R that native speakers produce so effortlessly.

In my case, the rolled R just came out one day, as if by magic. (That, and 2 long years of trying!)

But I wanted to ask other language learners how they did it.

So, I asked members of my Fluency Mastermind Facebook Group for their best tips, and wrote them up into this post!

How To Roll Your Rs

Technically speaking, the rolled R is known as the alveolar trill and is found in quite a few languages, like Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Malay.

The rolled R is not exactly a barrier to communication, but if you substitute it with a regular /r/ it can sometimes feel as though you are speaking like a child.

But fear not, you are not alone.

In fact, did you know even speakers struggle with this sometimes? I remember meeting Spanish and Italians who could not roll their Rs…

So have faith!

All learners struggle with this sound at some point, so let’s learn how some others have succeeded…

1. Give Yourself A Facial

Most people realise that the key to making the sound lies in the mouth.

Polyglot Fabien Snauwaert explains that it’s not the tongue which makes the sound, although it is a crucial element, but rather a stream of air which creates the rolling sound.

He recommends putting your tongue in position (under the palate), relaxing your tongue and letting air flow out.

Mark Cobb insists you also need to do this with a little smile, which is never a bad idea.

2. Get Into Position

If you’re unsure of the position, Tamara Marie explains that it is the same position as if you were saying a word starting with D.

After saying the D a few times, then you should try to say the /r/ sound.

She suggests using the word drape to get comfortable with the tongue placement.

Or, you can do as Carolyn Koslow and Denis Benjorato do and put a pencil between your teeth when you speak!

3. Use Your Tongue

You remember tongue twisters?

These old playground favourites are touted as a surefire way to get your tongue rolling.

Jonathan Huggins suggests asking Spanish-speakers to say English tongue twisters so that the content of the twister is not new to you and you can concentrate on the sound.

Jonathan’s favourites include the timeless red lorry, yellow lorry and the downright unusual…

Ricky licked a rock that he raked near the lake on a walk with Walter, the red-haired Labrador he rescued from the shelter near Rochester.

Karen Bryant and Yadda Rivera use a Spanish version to get their tongues to behave:

Erre con erre cigarro;

Erre con erre barril.

Rapido corren los carros,

Cargados de azucar al ferrocarril.

4. Channel Your Inner Animal

It seems there are numerous animals which can help us out with this problem.

According to Miriam Carla Salas, this is the time to bring out your inner tiger and show the world how you can GRRRRRRR.

Being an angry dog works too, says Gaber Patanè.

5. Monkey Hear, Monkey Do

On a more serious note, you can use the interactive IPA chart and copy the model they provide.

Of course, it might be the case that rolling your Rs is just not in your repertoire. (Like my native speaker friends I mentioned earlier.)

While it’s definitely possible to learn how to pronounce the sound, it does seem like some people are better at it than others.

Meririd Williams wonders if this could possibly be the result of your dialect or accent.

As she points out, though, having the linguistic gymnastic skills to pronounce the rolled R is not automatically going to make people think you are a native-speaker; it’s just the icing on the cake.

Which of these tips helped the most to Roll Your Rs? Do you have a tip of your own to add? Let me know in a comment below!

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This article was written by Olly Richards.

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  • Diego Cuadros

    true, some native speakers have lots of problems with the rolled Rs, this happens most of the times during young ages……. Here’s a little variation to the “channel your inner animal” tip that olly gives: as you make your Rs sound, you try to immitate the noise that car engine does, moving your tongue a litte close to your upper teeth but without touching them. 🙂

  • iAnonGuy

    When we make a “GRRRRR” sound, we naturally do the R as an Uvular Trill, so this is a bad exercise for Anglophones – at least in America.

    Even toddlers can make this sound, often, when they would otherwise say “Wicky went to da stowe”.

    The idea of associating Animalistic growls with an Aveolar trill is bound to confuse more people (here) than it helps.

    • Good point. I suppose we only only need one of the tricks to work, in order to do the job!

  • David

    Thanks Ollie for these helpful tips and exercises. The only exercise that enabled me to trill the ‘r’ was repeating the Spanish tongue twister over and over again, but even this is not permanent. I lose the trill even minutes later.

    • Keep at it — you’re already over the hill! It’s probably just a muscular thing now.