Hopeless monoglot that I am, my impossible attempts to properly roll my Spanish "R"s came up last week when I was traveling with a colleague who grew up in Barcelona. She was kind enough to provide me with a primer for getting it right -- and also kind enough to allow me to post it here so that you can all get it right (except for those of you who already know what you're doing).
Tutorial courtesy of Marrrrrria Perrrreda-Rrrrramon. Enjoy.
Can't roll your R? Frustrated that people make fun of your gringo accent? Learn how to roll your R right now!!!
1. Loosen up the tongue
The reason why a lot of people can’t roll their r’s is simple because they’re too stressed, or at least their tongue is. Speakers of American English are actually quite near a rolling r, although most tend to say it’s impossible for them to do. The problem is, however, that they keep their tongue way too far back. The trick is to put your tongue in the front of your mouth, but we’ll get back on that later. First, you want to loosen up your tongue. It’s useful to use a tongue-twister. Three simple words worked to loosen up YOUR tongue: tee dee va. Say these words fast and for a long period, in order to loosen up your tongue. (Warm up your tongue so it can get used to some of the positions required for rolling "r"s. Try to fold your tongue in half, turn it upside down, flutter it, curl it up and down, and so on.)
2. Try to make short trilling sounds
So, you tongue is ‘loose’ now? Good. After a lot of practicing with the above method I you can produce short ‘trrr’ and ‘drrr’ sounds. The reason why you can only make the sound with a t or d in front of it, is because you hold your tongue close to the place it should be with and r when producing a t or d.
After the above technique you should be able to produce short rolling sounds as well. It doesn’t matter if the rolling part only is there for a second, as long it’s there. Just take a deep breath and push the air out trying to make a ‘trrr’ or ‘drrr’ sound.
3. Make a an individual rolling r
The next and crucial step is to be able to make a individual rolling r. This can be VERY hard to do, so be sure you practiced a lot with the ‘trrr’/'drrr’ method. The first few weeks your individual r’s may sound like a weird sissing sound in the beginning. The good part, however, is that after a while you can make looooong rolling sounds without a sissing part in the beginning. Just practice, practice and practice. It can look hard, maybe impossible, to roll your r correctly, but you WILL succeed.
4. Putting your rolling r into words
Putting your newly acquired r into words can be really awkward in the beginning. The only way to overcome this is practice A LOT. Listen to Spanish music and singing along (perro, carro, carretera, Serrano, correa, redonda, sierra, lalalalalala), concentrating on the r’s. Just try it, after some days you can confidently roll your r in words, just like any Spanish native-speaker.
Want some examples and instructions on how to place your tongue? Visit this great website: Phonetics: The Sounds of Spoken Language, hosted by the University of Iowa