How to Roll Your Rs: Methods and Resources for Different Languages
Do you need to learn to roll your Rs for a language you’re studying, but feel like the technique is escaping you?
Overall, it’s a simple process: you place the tongue on the ridge behind the teeth as though you’re pronouncing a D and push air past with a lot of force, creating a vibrating trill.
But if your native language doesn’t feature rolled Rs, you may need more guidance.
We’ll walk you through a step-by step guide for producing the rolled R, as well as some practice resources and info on how to incorporate this sound into words and conversations.
- Which Languages Use the Rolled R?
- The 3-Step Method for How to Roll Your Rs
- Alternate Method: Go From Raspberry to Rolled R
- Practice the Rolled R
Which Languages Use the Rolled R?
The rolled R is used in Italian, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Arabic and (sometimes) Portuguese. It’s also part of Hindi and Tagalog.
That rolled R not only sounds pretty nifty, but it can make a difference in meaning when you’re speaking one of those languages.
For example, in Spanish, it’s the difference between pero (but) and perro (dog).
The 3-Step Method for How to Roll Your Rs
Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Here’s a guide to get your Rs from stalled to rolling.
Step 1: Know the anatomy of rolling your Rs
If you start to research how to roll your Rs, you may see a lot of technical terms:
- Hard palate
- Alveolar ridge
- Velum (soft palate)
- Apical consonant
To produce a rolled R, you’ll basically want to position the tip of your tongue on the alveolar ridge, where it needs to vibrate.
The alveolar ridge is at the very front of the roof of your mouth. It arches up behind your teeth and it might feel a bit bumpy.
When you’ve reached the smooth part of your hard palate, you’ve moved your tongue back too far. You’ll produce a choking, hissing sound if you try pushing air over your tongue when it’s too far back.
The rolled R is an “apical consonant,” meaning that the tip of the tongue blocks the air flow.
But don’t worry too much about the technical names. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is get a mental picture of how everything works together.
The following video is a 2-minute long crash course on the parts of the mouth, head and throat that we use to speak.
While it doesn’t explain the rolled R, it will give you a good grounding in the terminology.
This animated presentation from Glossika Phonics can help you visualize how to position your tongue properly to produce the rolled R.
Step 2: Get into Position
To get your tongue into the proper position, you can start by pronouncing an English word like “dirt” or “dirk.”
Once you’ve said the word a few times, begin again—but this time, stop as soon as you’ve pronounced the D. Your tongue will be where it needs to be to pronounce the rolled R.
Your mouth should be slightly open, with your jaw relaxed.
Step 3: Relax and roll!
Once your tongue is in place, with the tip pressed against the alveolar ridge, try repeatedly stammering the D sound (“duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh-duh”). This will get your tongue relaxed, in the right place and in motion.
Next, take a breath, hold it for a few seconds, then stammer the D sound again as you forcefully expel your breath in a whoosh! of air against your relaxed tongue.
Keep your tongue loose as you use your diaphragm to keep pushing air through your mouth, against your tongue.
Your tongue should start to roll (or make a trilling sound). Sustain the trill or roll for several seconds. (If you’ve ever taken voice lessons or sung in a choir, you’re probably familiar with breathing from your diaphragm as you sing.)
At this point, you should be producing a “motor” or breathy “purring” sound, which is a voiceless sound.
In other words, you’re not speaking or making any sound with your vocal folds/cords while you do it. You’re just letting the air rush out of your mouth, as if you were whispering.
The trick is to start making noise with your vocal cords as if you’re “purring,” resulting in a voiced—and rolled—R.
Rolling your Rs should produce a bit of a tickling sensation in your tongue and on your alveolar ridge.
Can’t get relaxed enough to roll? Daria of Real Russian Club offers many additional tips, including adding motion to your initial stuttering with a cotton swab, plus several tongue stretching and tongue relaxation exercises.
This video from Linguisticator offers another perspective: Think of your tongue as “a flag flapping in the wind” while you practice the rolled R.
Position your tongue correctly in your mouth, let the air flow and let your tongue ride the wind (much like the reed of a woodwind instrument, like a clarinet).
Alternate Method: Go From Raspberry to Rolled R
If the above step-by-step method fails to trill you, you may need to get childish—or, if you’re a Mel Brooks fan, think of the “There’s only one man who would dare give me the raspberry” scene from “Spaceballs.”
Most of us, at one point in our childhood, probably gave other children the “raspberry.” (If we were really cheeky, we may have even done it to an adult!) As you can see, even the very young can make the “raspberry” noise.
If you can give someone the raspberry, you can roll your Rs. The trick is to reverse engineer the process: Start out by making raspberries with your mouth. Your tongue will be vibrating between your upper and lower lips.
While you keep your tongue vibrating, try retracting it into your mouth suddenly, until the vibrating tip of your tongue hits the roof of your mouth, just behind your teeth. Now, just add some voice to it. Voilà!
A word to the wise: Practice this somewhere by yourself. It can get slightly… messy when you quickly pull your raspberry-blowing tongue into your mouth.
Practice the Rolled R
Once you’ve gotten the hang of the rolled R, the only way to master it and use it effortlessly in foreign conversations is to practice, practice, practice!
Watch, listen and learn
To see the rolled R in action and watch it being pronounced many times, videos are a great tool.
News programs, interviews and even music clips, such as those found in FluentU’s curated library of authentic videos, can help you see how the rolled R is pronounced.
FluentU teaches languages (including Spanish, Italian and Russian) with a focus on how they sound in real-life situations. It can help you understand how to roll your Rs when you hear the sound in a lot of contexts.
You can even highlight a specific word or phase in the interactive subtitles so you can hear a pronunciation guide. Or, you can search the video dictionary for specific words to find audio examples along with a list of videos with the word.
In FluentU‘s personalized review quizzes, you can even practice pronunciation with your device’s microphone and the app will compare it against native speech.
Turn to pop culture for inspiration
Method #1: Vibrate your tongue. You may remember some variation of this Rrrrrruffles have Rrrrridges ad, which married the rolled R sound to the peaks and troughs of a popular potato chip.
Method #2: Imitate Catwoman for perfect rolled Rs. Eartha Kitt as Catwoman was a purr-veyor of purr-fect rolled Rs. Unfortunately, this R is a bit too extended for use in most languages.
Method #3 is a drumroll. If you’ve ever made the noise of a drumroll with your mouth, or imitated a revving motor, you’ve essentially made the rolled R.
Twist your tongue to get it rolling
Tongue twisters are a great way to limber up your tongue, which is key for producing a good rolled R.
Here are a few tongue twisters from various languages:
This collection of Spanish tongue twisters will help your pronunciation in many areas. This old chestnut is plentiful with rolled double Rs:
Erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre barril. Rápido corren los carros, sobre los rieles del ferrocarril. (R with R cigar, R with R barrel. Quickly run the carriages on the rails of the railway.)
Like the lyrics of a folk song, the words of tongue twisters can get changed over time, with oral repetition. Here are more variations on the ferrocarril tongue twister, presented on video.
The story of the tres tristes tigres (three sad tigers) is another tale that can help you get your Rs rolling.
The tigers roar into this Italian tongue-twister video, along with several other ways to practice your rolled Rs.
The first two tongue twisters in the video are particularly good for rolled R practice. The transcription for all the tongue twisters is displayed below the video.
These two tongue twisters from Marek Radomski’s online Polish dictionary will have your Rs rolling finer than the most delicate chrusciki!
Król Karol kupił królowej Karolinie korale koloru koralowego. (King Karol bought a coral colored necklace for queen Karoline.)
W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie a Szczebrzeszyn z tego słynie że chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie. (In [the town of] Szczebrzeszyn a beetle buzzes in the reed, for which Szczebrzeszyn is famous.)
In this Polish lesson video, Ewelina talks about and demonstrates how Rs are rolled in the Polish language, using lots of common words as examples:
In this video from Antonia Romaker, captioned with both the original Russian and an English translation, you can practice a trio of great Russian rolled R tongue twisters.
You’ll also get some advice from a native speaker on how not to confuse the rolled R with similar sounds.
For students of other languages, Robert Beard’s alphaDictionary site boasts an impressive list of tongue twisters in over two dozen languages.
With the help of the resources and tips above, you can learn to roll your Rs. Remember: It’s not just the cat’s meow… it’s child’s play!