You want to speak Spanish well, I assume. Otherwise you wouldn’t visit this blog or read this post. Speaking correctly means that you use the sounds of Spanish, and not apply the sounds of your mother tongue to Spanish words. Unfortunately, that’s not how foreign languages work. If you’re unlucky, your native language differs completely in sound from Spanish (I’m not talking about grammar at this point, because that’s something else you have to worry about, which is not at this point).
I’m lucky that my native tongue is Dutch, and that Dutch has some uncommon sounds which can be found in Spanish as well. On the other hand I’m unlucky, as I’m from a part of the Netherlands where people do roll their r, but they do it in their throat (remember me writing about this?). People can say what they want, but it’s not correct to use an throat rolled r in, for example, ‘perro’. Some people say it is correct, but it simply isn’t. The only correct rolled r is the one formed with the tip of your tongue. And this is where it gets ugly, because this is an unknown sound in English. I had the same problem, but mine was that – everytime I wanted to roll my r correctly – either a sissing sound would come out, or a throat-rolled r. Very frustrating, indeed.
BUT! After weeks of surfing the internet for exercises and doing these exercises (some even made me feeling depressed, so I suggest only using the ones I advice to do) I finally was able to make an rolling sound with the tip of my tongue. Some weeks later I was even able to put the into words (which is quite important, I guess). So, where do you need to start? Read carefully, you might need some of the following techniques to be able to roll a perfect r in the future.
1. Loosen up the tongue
The reason why a lot of people can’t roll their r’s is simple because they’re too stressed, or at least their tongue is. Speakers of American English are actually quite near a rolling r, although most tend to say it’s impossible for them to do. The problem is, however, that they keep their tongue way too far back. The trick is to put your tongue in the front of your mouth, but we’ll get back on that later. First, you want to loosen up your tongue.
Something I found useful is to use a tongue-twister. Three simple words worked to loosen up MY tongue: tee dee va. All I did was saying these words fast and for a long period, in order to loosen up my tongue. First I though it was a bunch of bullsh*t to do, but it actually worked.
2. Try to make short trilling sounds
So, you tongue is ‘loose’ now? Good. After a lot of practicing with the above method I was able to produce short ‘trrr’ and ‘drrr’ sounds. The reason why I could only make the sound with a t or d in front of it, is because you hold your tongue close to the place it should be with and r when producing a t or d.
After the above technique you should be able to produce short rolling sounds as well. It doesn’t matter if the rolling part only is there for a second, as long it’s there. Just take a deep breath and push the air out trying to make a ‘trrr’ or ‘drrr’ sound.
3. Make a an individual rolling r
The next and crucial step it so be able to make a individual rolling r. This can be VERY hard to do, so be sure you practiced a lot with the ‘trrr’/'drrr’ method. When I was learning to roll my r, the first few weeks my individual r’s sounded like a weird sissing sound in the beginning. The good part, however, is that after a while you can make looooong rolling sounds without a sissing part in the beginning. Just practice, practice and practice. It can look hard, maybe impossible, to roll your r correctly, but you WILL succeed. Trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve been depressed over the fact I couldn’t roll my r. But I’ve succeeded!
4. Putting your rolling r into words
Putting your newly acquired r into words can be really awkward in the beginning. The only way to overcome this is practice A LOT. One thing that helped me was listening to Spanish music and singing along (most people can’t sing, including me, so you might try not to sing too loud), concentrating on the r’s. Just try it, after some days you can confidently roll your r in words, just like any Spanish native-speaker.
Want some examples and instructions on how to place your tongue? Visit this great website.
If you need some extra practice and/or tips, be sure to check out the WikiHow page on rolling your R like a Spaniard.
Building and maintaining your accent