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Pronouncing “r" in Spanish

written by: tracedreyer • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 9/11/2012

Here is a great trick to get you to pronounce that pesky Spanish “r", with some practice included, so that in less than it takes to read this article you will be able to impress your Spanish speaking friends, and, who knows, maybe even your Spanish teacher.

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    Rolling the "r"

    For many, pronouncing another language is one of the biggest obstacles to learning the language. English speaking learners of Spanish have a particularly hard time “rolling" the “r" because the sound that is associated with that letter in Spanish seems to have no equivalent in English- or does it? Read on to find out.

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    Two "r" sounds

    First of all, there are two “r" sounds in Spanish. There is a short rolled r, and a longer rolled r. This article focuses on helping you pronounce the short r. The assumption is that once you can make the short r sound, you should be able, with a little independent practice, progress into making the long r sound as well.

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    Butter: The rolled "r" in English

    You should also know that you already use the “rolled-r" sound to speak in English. No, you do not have to be Scottish to roll your “r" when you speak. It is a very common sound, and is used all the time. However, unlike in Spanish, it is the sound English speakers make when pronouncing a “t" or a “d" between two vowels. Let me give you an example.

    Try pronouncing the word “butter." Did you notice how quickly you flicked your tongue off the roof of your mouth to pronounce that “t" sound between the “uh" and the “er?" That is actually the same sound as the single “r" in Spanish. You can practice flicking the tongue with other familiar English words like batter, letter, better, water, Peter, liter, and so on. But if you still have not got the hand of flicking the tongue you can practice with “d" words, say, “ladder" and see if you make the same quick flick of the tongue between the “a" and the “er." Do not try to pronounce it the way the English do. What you want is a normal, average American accent, where you soften the sound of the “t" and the “d" so that it just rolls off the tongue.

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    Say "r" in Spanish

    How about starting with a short word that is short and sweet with the “r" sound in the middle of two vowels. The Spanish for “face" is “cara." Try saying it, and as you do remember to flick your tongue. If at first you do not succeed, try an easy trick, by saying the English homonym “gotta" as in “I've gotta go now." Say “gotta" a couple of times and then switch to “cara." The vowels sound the same, just change the initial “g" for “c." Other homonyms for “gotta" are “para" (for), “Sara" (a woman's name), “Lara" (a last name).

    Now try saying it at the end of the word “estar." The “a" in the second syllable sounds like the “o" in “hot" --a kind of short, open sound. Other words that sound like “estar" are “pasear," “escuchar," and “mirar." Remember make the “a" sound like the “o" in hot, not, or shot.

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    Playing with "r"

    Now you can make your own time for practice: sitting in the waiting room or on a bus, or late at night when you are trying to go to sleep, try saying the words we went over, or make up your own short lists of words to practice rolling the "r" with. It takes a little while to really get used to, so you may have to resort to tricking your tongue again and again by pronouncing the English words first, then sliding into Spanish.

    Check out other great articles for learning Spanish on this channel, with tips, lesson sequences and materials to help with Spanish grammar and writing.