Why You Can’t Roll Your R’s (and How To Learn, Step by Step)

Can’t roll your R in Spanish? You’re not alone.

“I tried to learn Spanish but my kids made fun of my accent so I quit”

“I stopped learning because I can’t roll the double rr”

These are real comments from Spanish learners on my social media. Don’t let that happen to you!

Rolling your R’s in Spanish is not easy for everyone, but it is doable. Yes — for you, too. In this article, I’ll show you exactly how. 

After reading these tips, pick a time every day where you practice. While you’re eating your Frosted Flakes, stuck in rush hour, in line for scratch offs at the BP — anything you do every day. That thing will be your cue to practice your Spanish R.  

What’s the difference between R vs RR in Spanish?

The single R sound is just a quick tap. The RR sound is what you think of when you say “roll your R’s”. 

Listen to these examples courtesy of forvo.com (a great resource for Spanish learners who want pronunciation references)

Caro vs Carro

caro
carro

Pero vs Perro

pero
perro

Aro vs Arroz

aro
arroz

The single R sound in caro, pero and aro does exist in English — but with different letters. 

“Letters” is a great example. Unless you’re David Attenborough, your tongue taps the roof of your mouth when you say letter, better, butter, ladder, and so on. 

All you need to do is take that [tt] or [dd] sound and put it into Spanish words with the single R sound. 

In fact, for most learners, this is the first step towards rolling their R’s. 

When do you use the R vs RR sound? 

How do you know when to tap versus trill your R in Spanish? 

Tap your R’s when…

  • There’s just one between two vowels 
    • corazón, coraje, pera
  • Before/after a consonant that’s part of the same syllable
    • barco, tren, libro, fresa, frambuesa, gracias
  • At the end of words
    • Amor, color, tener
    • Some speakers do roll these R’s, but on average it’s less common. Typically it’s for emphasis. I’d say: unless you’re a fútbol commentator, you don’t need to roll the R at the end of a word

Roll your R’s when…

  • The word starts with R
    • rodilla, reloj, radio
  • The word has two R’s
    • agarrar, jarra, arriba
  • After L, N, S (when it’s a new consonant)
    • sonreír, enriquecer, alrededor

Why can’t I roll my R’s? 

It’s unlikely that you’re physically incapable of rolling your R. Here are a few more likely explanations for why you can’t (yet!), and what to do about it. 

You’re trying too hard

The rolled R does not involve intentionally moving your tongue. It’s like trying to sleep. The harder you try, sometimes the farther away it seems. 

But if you relax (as in, literally relax your mouth), and practice some of the tips below daily, one day you’ll be eating a hot dog or registering to vote and it will just happen. 


You’re not trying hard enough

There’s a sweet spot. 

Your tongue can’t just be flopping around your mouth like a little tongue-shaped trout. But if it’s totally stiff, it can’t move either. 

Start by touching the blade of your tongue (the part just behind the tip) on the roof of your mouth. 


You’re trying to say actual words 

If you’re trying to practice by saying guitarra or ferrocarril, there’s too much to think about. 

Instead, the first thing to do is isolate the basic sound. Let’s take the vocal cords out of the equation entirely.  

[You might also like: 15 Hard Words to Pronounce in Spanish & How To Pronounce Them]


You haven’t practiced enough

If the Rr sound doesn’t come easily to you, and you want to be able to make it, don’t just throw up your hands if it doesn’t click. 

Getting our mouths to produce unfamiliar sounds takes lots of practice. With the right approach, it will still take time. 

If you’re serious about it, pick a time every day when you can practice the steps below.
 

How to Roll your R’s in Spanish: Step-by-Step

  1. Make the tap sound
    This is the sound in butter, better, ladder, utter, letter, and many more. Some readers may be able to simply repeat butter, better, ladder, letter over and over and get the R to roll.

    But if you’re reading this, you may have tried that already. Here’s what to do next:

    Take Cara [face] and picture Cata (as in, catatonic or catacomb [only positive example words here). If that doesn’t work, try the ada sound in Madam.
  1. Remove the other sounds
    In this case, remove the C and just say ata (ara)

  2. Stop using your vocal cords (for now)
    Breathe out heavily from your lungs saying ata
  3. Repeat
    Say this three hundred and forty seven times every day for the next two weeks. Seriously. Don’t underestimate the importance of repetition.

    I’ve heard of people practicing daily for a year before finally getting it.

    And you don’t usually get it when you’re trying. More often, you’re in the middle of a root canal or DMV test and it just comes out.
     
  4. Repeat more
    Don’t always do this in the same position. Try it laying down in bed, underwater, while jogging, upside down – anything to shake things up on a physical level.

    At some point during all this practice, you’ll feel your tongue do the double-tap/trill.
  1. Add in a basic sound
    Once you can blow air out and get a bit of a roll, try adding in some sound.

    Don’t try saying words yet. Just try a simple hum, grunt, or other meaningless sound so you avoid trying to do too many things at once.
  1. Separate the two R’s

    If the above steps don’t work, I have one more tip, courtesy of this video from the YouTube channel Elissa Dell’Aera

    Take a word like carro and chop it in half. Tap the final R and the first R:

    Car
    Ro

    Exaggerate the air coming out to help. 

    Say car + ro over and over, slowly bringing the sounds closer together.

R rolling tips from the comments section

On my social media, I’ve gotten lots of comments from people wanting tips on how to roll your r’s in Spanish. I thought I’d start compiling them here in case one is the magic tip for you:

Spanish rolling r tongue twister

Once you’ve got it down, here’s the real test. Tongue twisters! 

Here are a few you can try once you’ve practiced the R by itself many, many, many times. 

Tres tristes tigres tragaron trigo en un trigal.

Erre con erre cigarro
erre con erre barril
rápido ruedan los carros
cargados de azúcar del ferrocarril.

Había un perro
debajo de un carro,
vino otro perro
y le mordió el rabo.
corre, corre por la calle arriba,
corre, corre por la calle abajo

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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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