How to Roll your Spanish R

Here are 4 keys to learning the correct pronunciation of the dreaded Spanish R.


1. Better to ‘under’ do it than ‘over’ do it

The first place people struggle when learning the Spanish RR is to over do it.  It’s better to underdo it than to over do it.  If you don’t have the placement right you’ll just get tangled up in your mouth and will literally halt your speech. Even though the RR is rolling, it can actually be very subtle, not a screaming rolling R like a clown.


2. Keep the placement in the front of your mouth

 Almost all of Spanish, with maybe the major exception of the ‘j’ or ‘jota’ is pronounced in the front of the mouth. It’s what allows Spanish to be spoken so quickly. Lightly place the tip of your tongue on the top of your mouth like you’re going to pronounce a “D”. Then blow out a candle. See if you can get your tongue vibrating.


3. There are 2 different ‘R’ sounds.  One is softer

To get started, know that there are actually 2 R sounds. 
They both have a ‘roll’ aspect to them. They are formed in the same place in the mouth, the double, or trill r, just has a longer and more pronounced roll. 


caro = inexpensive
carro = car (Mexican; in Spain often coche)

pero = but
perro = dog

cero = zero
cerro = hill

foro = forum
forro = cover

para = for
parra = vine

 4. The ‘R’ sound is one you already know


It turns out there is a slightly similar sound in English you can use to guide yourself, and it will make your Spanish R’s smooth as butter, (or putter or  …)

We don’t have an English version of the Spanish R trill, but we do have an equivalent to the single Spanish ‘r’ ( [ɾ] ). And the Spanish trill is just a more intense version of the Spanish single ‘r’. 

This [ɾ] sound is found in the American pronunciation of a double ‘t’ as in the word ‘putter’ or ‘butter’.  Shown below phonetically, your can see the shared symbols between the double ‘t’ sound in ‘putter’, and the r sound in ‘para’

putter = [pə-ɾəɹ]

para = [pa-ɾa]

Now let’s try. Start by saying the word ‘putter’ using the American pronunciation where the two ‘t’s sound more like ‘d’.  Then, letter by letter, start changing the pronounciation, until you get to ‘patta’ which, if said correctly, will sound like the Spanish ‘para’. Listen to the audio below to confirm.

putter … putter … putter

putta … putta … putta

patta … patta … patta ( = para )

You could also do the same thing with the word ‘butter’ and ‘caro’:
butter -> cutter -> cutto -> catto  = caro

The main thing is to notice the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth and how it feels and sounds. The Spanish trill ‘r’ happens in exactly the same positioning in the mouth and even the exact same movements, just for longer.

Keep practicing and slowly transition from the singular ‘r’ to the Spanish trill ‘r’.

Practicas for fun!

Think you’ve got it? When you’re ready, try this tongue twister:

Erre con erre cigarro,
erre con erre barril.
Rápido corren los carros,
detrás del ferrocarril