How to roll your R in Spanish

Any Spanish speaker would agree with the following: Roll your R’s correctly in Spanish or else it wouldn’t even make sense to speak it at all. The trilled R is such an important feature in the Spanish language. Knowing the technical way to pronounce the R and knowing where to roll them will make the difference between sounding like a tourist forever or mixing in with native Spanish speakers. It is equally important to learn words as it is to pronounce them correctly.

Spanish language has two types of R’s:

The strong or trilled R. This is the well known R used in Spanish. It is pronounced by rolling the tongue against the back of the teeth and often produces a hissing sound.

The soft or tapped R. An R that is more pronounced as R’s in other languages. It is pronounced with a light trill or a small flight of the tongue usually on the roof of the mouth.

How to roll the strong R in Spanish?

First of all, have you ever noticed that people around the world pronounce the R in such a different way. Any region, area or country defines (amongst other things) what your accent is. We probably all have a personal taste and preference for how to pronounce the R and than there is the matter of how you are able to pronounce it.

You will find that to speak Spanish you will need to teach your mouth and tongue how to pronounce a R in a way you never had to before. Some people tend to roll the R in the back of the mouth/throat. Native English speakers tend use the middle part of the mouth, with a U shaped tongue to pronounce the R. However there is only one correct way to pronounce a R in Spanish.

Place the tip of your tongue on the back of your front teeth and vibrate it.

It will be hard practice to make it sounds natural and smooth. It’s just a sound that most of us have never ever even had to make before.

When do you use the vibrating R in Spanish?

Luckily this typical Spanish R is not used every single time. The rule of thumb for this is:

Use the rolling Spanish R only when the words begins with R.

Or use the rolling Spanish R when the word contains a double RR.

For example, the following words will have a strong or hard R:

  • Regalo
  • Radio
  • Recitar
  • Roca
  • Rojo
  • Recoger
  • Ritmo
  • Rosa
  • Carro
  • Perro
  • Roto
  • Ruta
  • Arroz
  • Barra
  • Zorro
  • Arriba
  • Correr
  • Cerrar
  • Correcto
  • Terrible
  • Rodilla
  • Ritual
  • Rico
  • Risa
  • Recibir

See a list of all words in Spanish starting with the letter R here.

How to roll your soft R in Spanish?

You have learned that the strong R is used whenever the words start with R. This also means that you would’t roll the strong R words that do not start with this letter. Take for example:

Video’s as an example

The videos in this article are demonstrations to help you practice the correct pronunciation of the letter “r” in Spanish. Practice makes perfect and these videos will help your tongue get used to saying it correctly!

3 Tips for a perfect Spanish R:

Let the air flow

The difference between rolling and non-rolling r’s is that rolling the r doesn’t cut off the air flow when pronouncing it. Instead, it rolls off of the tongue and has a higher pitch than a non-rolled r.

In Spanish, when you pronounce an r in a word with an e or i before it, you don’t have to release your tongue from its position in order to pronounce an additional letter. That means you can keep your tongue up high for both sounds and produce what’s called a rolled r—the air kind of flows around your tongue as you produce that sound.

Relax your tongue

You are only able to get it right if you roll your tongue with a relaxed tongue. No tention! You need to relax your tongue and produce a sound that’s halfway between an L and an R.

Find the right position

Place your tongue against the back of your teeth. Let the air flow and experiment with the sounds and vibrations you get. What works best for your teeth?

Practice makes perfect

Practice makes perfect is something we often hear when we are learning a new skill. This is because the more we practice, the better we become at that skill.

It is not unheard of for someone to roll their R in Spanish correctly even if they have never done it before. However most often it takes years to perfect it. Did you know that:

It even takes native speaking Spanish children up to 7 years to roll their R’s correctly.

The truth of the matter is that there isn’t one correct way to say anything in a language, and this includes how to roll your R’s in Spanish. Best of luck on perfecting your R’s!