Are you afraid of the letter r?

Did you know that the letter r scares many children during their Spanish language learning? Did you know this letter is the last one learned for most natives? Did you know some native Spanish speakers never achieve good pronunciation of this letter?

Of course, my intention is not to scare you. I just want you to know that it is not only your problem. It is a general problem. Nonetheless, you can improve your r pronunciation skills.

However, before learning how you can achieve it, let me explain some native cases to you.

The r phoneme is altered for many people: mainly for children that avoid pronouncing the r (osa instead of rosa), or using l, d, t, g, dr and tr (losa, dosa, tosa, gosa, drosa, trosa). This phenomenon is called rhotacism (rotacismo in Spanish).

Moreover, I will admit to you that I was one of those children. Yes, I was one, but I overcame that problem. And you can also do it.

There could be several origins of this problem, like bad positioning of the tongue, among many others reasons. But this is not the purpose of this article. Thus, the true approach is to give you an idea about how it affects natives and how to overcome it. Of course, what I am going to suggest requires a lot of practice, because I do not have a magic wand. I am just a human like you.

Why is it so difficult? One of the reasons could be that children or Spanish learners cannot see the tongue while the r sound is pronounced, unlike b, p, m and others that can be seen.

The r sound is achieved by making tip of the tongue vibrate against the palate. There are two r sounds, the soft r sound and the strong r sound.

Now, let’s talk about how to face the soft r sound. I guess you know some words with this particular sound. However, here are some of them: auricular, mariposa, arena, caro, artista, caminar, disfrutar, calculadora, entre, and otros.

Pay more attention to the following below:

At first, when you are pronouncing this sound, look at yourself in front of a mirror and study the shape of your mouth.
Of course, never ever forget to breathe when you are pronouncing this sound. Inhale before speaking and exhale just a bit during.
Repeat several times. I mean, pronounce the same word as many times as you can, for example: torta, torta, torta, torta… and sometimes make emphasis torrrta, torrrr…ta.
Note that the r sound after a consonant is similar to the English r sound, but in Spanish it is stronger.
Record your own voice to hear yourself after.
I encourage you for research about praxia exercises.

These steps above are only recommendations. Now I want to talk to you about the strong R sound. Of course, I have not finished with the soft one, but we will just mix them.

Let’s try this other sound in a mix.

Follow the above steps 1, 2, 3 (perro), 4 (in the next step, I will give you a suggestion), 5 and 6.
According to step 4 (the last part), in English the following phrase “I don’t know” makes a very similar sound to the strong r, during the fast pronunciation of “don’t” (just keep in mind).
Imitate the sound of a motorcycle (run, run, ruuuunnn), but remember that “run” in English sounds very different. So, try to imitate the Spanish sound for “run”. Or even easier, the sound of a phone (riiin, riiin, riiin).
The main difference between the soft and strong sounds is that in the first one, the tongue only bounces once against the palate, and in the second one, it bounces several times and quickly.

Well, you already know some tips, but do not worry, I am aware you need more than just these tips. In addition, I know you need to watch and hear someone. Thus, I have compiled some videos from YouTube that I selected carefully and have made a summary of each one for your comfort.

Please note that I am not a “youtuber,” so I do not take credit for these videos.

Here is the compiled list:

Katie provides us with incredible advice. She shows how some English words have similar sounds to the soft r sound.
Owner: Katie
Language: English

Here is Katie again, who tries to explain how to achieve the r sound.
Owner: Katie
Language: English

At first, Aaron tells us how not to make the r sound, and tells us what the correct way is, with easy steps to shape your tongue like a flag in your mouth. It is very curious, but I found sense in it.
Owner: Dr. Aaron Ralby
Language: English

Rachel explains in detail how to achieve this in a very easy way. She even gives us a lot of good advice, like the funny way of talking like Gollum (I laughed a lot in this part).
Owner: Rachel
Language: English

In this particular case, Daria is teaching us how to pronounce the correct strong r sound for Russian speakers, but even so, I think it also is very useful for Spanish speakers. Watch her video and discover how to use a cotton swab for pronouncing the strong r sound.
Owner: Daria
Language: English

This is the first of two videos, which have a lot of good advice. You should not miss them. In this first video, Alexandra shows us exercises for relaxing the tongue and mouth.
Owner: Alexandra
Language: Spanish

In this second video, Alexandra continues with more exercises, but this time, these exercises are about phonemes.
Owner: Alexandra
Language: Spanish

Elena's performance allows us to study slowly and in detail the grammatical rules of r. We realize the differences between similar words (pera, perra, pero, perro, cero, cerro).
Owner: Elena
Language: Spanish

This video is by Félix, and he is very funny in his performance. I suppose this video could be extra for your learning. Felix starts with a tongue twister, then he gives a quick summary about the grammatical rules of r. He even provides us with a very good example about a word that has both r sounds. From 4:30, he begins with activities about pronunciation.
Owner: Félix
Language: Spanish

Finally, but no less importantly, Karla gives advice to worried parents.
Owner: Psic. Karla Durazo
Language: Spanish

As you can see, there are many ways to face this problem. I hope you find your solution here with a little bit of fun.

Before I leave, I want to show you some popular tongue twisters in Spanish:

R con R cigarro, R con R barril, rápido corren los carros cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril. R con R cigarro, R con R barril, rápido ruedan las ruedas del carro cargado de azúcar del ferrocarril.

Tres tristes tigres comen trigo en un trigal. Tanto trigo tragan que los tres tigres tragones con el trigo se atragantan.

Compadre, cómprame un coco. Compadre, coco no compro porque el que poco coco come poco coco compra. Yo, como poco coco, poco coco compro. Compadre, cómprame un coco. ¡Que no compro coco, ni como!

Cómo quieres que te quiera, si el que quiero que me quiera, no me quiere como quiero que me quiera.

Try your best!

Remember, practice a lot!



Image source:

Image by timlewisnm (CC BY-SA 2.0)