How To Pronounce R and RR in Spanish
The r in Spanish is one of the most challenging pronunciation issues for new learners of the language. Listening to a native Spanish speaker saying carretera or ferrocarril for the first time, always produces a strong impression on my Spanish students. That thrill of the RRs is completely new for them.
However, the sound of the rolling r is just a sound like any other. A new and different one for native English speakers, for sure, but not impossible to teach and reproduce.
Keep reading to learn all about the dreaded r in Spanish, the two different sounds associated with this letter, and useful strategies to help you pronounce each one of them.
The Dreaded R in Spanish
It’s no secret that the letter r in Spanish is one of the hardest ones to pronounce for foreign learners of the language, especially native English speakers. By personal experience, I can tell you that the r and j sounds are the ones that give the most trouble to my Spanish students.
It may surprise you to learn that it’s not only foreigners that have trouble with the Spanish r, young children struggle with it too, and parents and teachers use different strategies to help them learn how to pronounce it correctly.
However, the main issue might be that there isn’t a single r sound, but two. And it’s only one of them that causes all those headaches to new learners of the language.
Soft R vs Hard R
- caro (expensive)
- pero (but)
- toro (bull)
The hard r, also known as the rolling r in Spanish, is the one that most English speakers associate with the Spanish r, and the one that can cause some pronunciation issues. You must pronounce the hard r sound in words that start with r in Spanish or in words that have a double r or “rr” in the middle of a word.
- ratón (mouse)
- ruido (noise)
- carro (car)
- perro (dog)
Did you notice? In the list above, I included two words that are similar to those listed in the soft r category—just with an extra r! Caro and carro, for instance, are completely different words and their pronunciation radically changes their meaning.
How to Pronounce R in Spanish
Let’s start with the easy one: the single or soft r.
To pronounce the soft r in Spanish, you need to apply the “tap,” also known as the “flap.” This means that you have to “tap” once with the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth, behind your top teeth.
Try it first.
Say the English word “added,” and pay attention to the position of your tongue when you pronounce that “dd” sound.
Now, try tapping with your tongue at the top of your mouth one more time while pronouncing the r in “caro.” Remember to do only one tap, because that’s what makes all the difference from the hard r in Spanish.
If you still have trouble pronouncing the soft r, try substituting the r sound with a d sound. This isn’t ideal, but it’s a good starting point, and the English d is quite similar to the Spanish r.
Actually, some native Spanish speakers who can’t correctly pronounce the single r sound do this little trick and get away with it.
How To Pronounce Double R in Spanish
The double r, the rr, the hard r, or the rolling r in Spanish, are different ways to refer to that “trill” associated with the r in Spanish. This is the distinctive “rrrrrr” sound that’s so difficult to achieve by some English speakers.
However, there’s no need to stress about it. All you need to do is to apply one or all of the following strategies and soon you’ll be pronouncing the r in Spanish like a native Spanish speaker!
1. Repeat the ‘Tap’ Several Times
Remember that tap to the top of your mouth you did when pronouncing the soft r? Well, to pronounce the hard r all you have to do is to repeat that same tap several times in rapid succession.
Start by relaxing your jaw and positioning your tongue close to the alveolar ridge at the top of your mouth behind your teeth. When you blow, air should flow between the tongue and the roof of your mouth. Now, tap with your tongue against the alveolar ridge in rapid succession to produce the double r in Spanish.
2. Use ‘Throw’ as a Starting Point
If you have trouble pronouncing this hard r right, try saying the English word “throw” and use it as a starting point. This word requires a position of your tongue to pronounce that r in the middle, that’s very similar to the one needed to pronounce the thrill of the rolling r in Spanish.
Try saying “throw” very slowly and extend that r sound, like in “thrrrrrooow.” That sound right there is the sound you’re looking for. That’s the thrill r that Spanish speakers pronounce when they say carro or perro.
Now try saying that extended “thrrrrrooow” again, followed by an extended perrrrro, using the same sound you just produced for “throw.”
3. Try Saying Tongue Twisters
They say that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” and I like to apply that saying to my Spanish lessons. If you don’t know how to pronounce something in Spanish, follow the same strategies followed by native Spanish speakers.
In the case of the rolling r, the most common strategy used to teach little kids to pronounce the double r in Spanish countries is using tongue twisters to help them pronounce the sound naturally.
I remember repeating the following tongue twister many times, until I was able to say ferrocarril (train) correctly.
Erre con erre cigarro
Erre con erre barril
Erre con erre
Ruedan las ruedas
I’ve highlighted all the hard r sounds you need to produce in that short tongue twitter. In the beginning, don’t worry too much about getting the distinctive thrill of the rr, try saying the tongue twister slowly first, and then faster and faster every time. When the words start flowing easily, then you can focus on producing that rolling r sound that you’re looking for.
Practice Your Rs and RRs and Get Your Spanish Pronunciation Right!
In pronunciation, listening may help you to identify a sound, but in order to get it right, you have to practice it many times. Try using one or all of the strategies mentioned above and get right your pronunciation of the letter r in Spanish.
Getting your pronunciation right makes traveling to Spanish-speaking countries easier, as you can communicate easily with the locals, learn about their culture, and make the most of your trip.
Practice your pronunciation in real-time with real teachers! Sign up for a free Spanish class with one of our native, certified teachers from Guatemala. They teach over 24,000 actively enrolled students every month and offer individualized lessons and flexible schedules.
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