How to pronounce Spanish rr in combination with other consonants?
May 3, 2013 3:06 PM   Subscribe

Looking for help prouncing the RR sound in words such as sonrisa, alrededor, las rosas

I am capable of pronouncing the RR sound in words such as rosa, perro, but when it comes next to other consonants I don't know what to do with my tongue and end up getting muddled. I feel like I know how it SHOULD sound, from listening to Spanish speakers, but my mouth just doesn't want to play. My pronunciation of alrededor is more like alerrededor, and my pronunciation of sonrisa is son.....rrisa. Does anybody have any tips? Websites, resources? Thanks :)
posted by iamsuper to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are you trilling every R you see, or only the double Rs? You're only supposed to trill the double Rs, I think. The other R sound is the double T in "little," "better," and "letter" when spoken quickly. You might find that an easier sound from which to move to the N in "sonrisa."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:14 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have trouble with this because the very fine muscles of your mouth aren't toned or strong enough. A native speaker would've been building this strength since birth.

What you need is actually specialized speech therapy to properly identify the right set of exercises, which can be simple to perform but must be tailored for your specific issue.

Alas, now that you're an adult, this is going to be hard.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:15 PM on May 3, 2013

I'm not a native Spanish speaker, but the Spanish teacher I had years ago suggested using a soft 'd' sound for a single r. At the bottom of this page, they offer some suggestions on combined r and consonants (like putting in a u sound until you master it).

The r sound in rosa is different than the rr sound in perro, though. The double rr is trilled.
posted by looli at 3:15 PM on May 3, 2013

@Rustic: I pronounce the single r as an 'alveolar tap' and the double r as an 'alveolar trill'. My problem is just when it comes after another (dreaded) consonant.

@looli:Useful link :) I thought single r at the beginning of a word was pronounced as a double rr though?

*stops threadsitting*
posted by iamsuper at 3:19 PM on May 3, 2013

This is sort of a super long shot, but if you are at all familiar with pranayama (yogic breathing), the mouth position and breath expulsion that makes the rr sound are similar to those used in ujjayi breath. (well, for me at least.)
posted by elizardbits at 3:21 PM on May 3, 2013

I tend to sort of begin to trill the r as in rr, but then ... stop after one r? One trill?

That is the opposite of helpful now that I've written it out, but I can't think how else to describe it. Your tongue moves to the same place on your palate but only taps once instead of vibrating against it. In 'sonrisa' your tongue is basically in the right place after the 'n,' so it's a subtle sound -- the n kind of blends into the r. In 'alrededor,' your tongue is a little more forward on your palate with the 'l,' and then moves quickly and slightly back for the 'r.' Practice just saying the first 'alre' over and over without getting into the whole word, it'll become smoother.

I have the most trouble with the 'tr' combination, I think because of the less plosive 't' combined with the single 'r.'

And I have definitely heard native speakers trill a word starting with single 'r,' I don't know if it's "correct," but it certainly adds emphasis, or something, and is not uncommon.
posted by little cow make small moo at 3:37 PM on May 3, 2013

I think it depends on the accent. I generally hear a trill in both single r and double rr, but the single r is subtle to non-existent. Inner r's are much more subtle than inner r's in English. It's almost like you are speaking an r, but briefly tonguing the letter d in the middle of it.

In alrededor, the "alre" almost sounds like aldray, then day, then door. I wouldn't expect a trill on the final r.

Yes, I would tend to hear a single r at the beginning of a word as more trilled, but again it depends on the accent and the "punch" the speaker is putting on the word.

"La Raza" alone, referring to the hispanic race as a proper noun, would probably be much more trilled than "la raza" in the middle of a sentence about something else.

(I have no experience with Spanish from Spain, just the various flavors of American Spanish.)
posted by gjc at 4:23 PM on May 3, 2013

I don't know if this will help. The sound in question should be pronounced like an aspirated "H" and a very soft "d" at the same time. You don't really have to make contact with the alveloar ridge. (IANAL)
posted by Jode at 4:36 PM on May 3, 2013

I have this same problem and it occurs in similar phonetic environments. What you're having a hard time doing is getting your tongue to go from a position of blocking the airflow into one where it quickly taps (once) or vibrates/trills (multiple repititions in rapid succession). It's conceptually like standing on one foot and taking the raised foot and placing it flat on the floor and then lifting it super quickly to tap just the ball of the foot on the floor. It's hard, and takes practice. Try it with the'll see that without practicing, you'll get that foot flat (because you already know how to do that) but the quick tap(s) are may end up pounding the foot too hard, or you may end up just bending the ankle real quicklike and sort of missing the floor.

To apply this to the tongue/mouth...the l's and n's (and t's and d's, if you're like me) are the "flat foot". Say the word "son" or "al" and just pause before going back to a relaxed mouth state. Your tongue is stuck up there, tip somewhere touching the alveolar ridge of the mouth. The roof of your mouth is that floor.

Now say "alfredo" or "sangria" (I must be hungry and thirsty) and you'll see that you can very easily move the tongue tip into the next articulatory target before getting to that r sound. It's natural in English and you've had lots of practice. You can probably fairly easily do that with a tap or trill in place of the 'r' sound, because that 'f' or 'g' is giving you some time to prepare (to get that metaphorical foot back off the ground some). Keep trying that. Now work on dropping that intermediary consonant (the f/g). You WILL be able to do it eventually, I promise. You can even come up with other words or phrases to practice with. Find some English ones that maybe have an unstressed vowel in between those l/n sounds and a following d or r. Throw a Spanish accent spin on it and then slowly try to let that stuff in the middle go away.

I'm elaborating on the mechanics of this because I find it's really helpful to understand just what the heck is going on in there, and what you're trying to change.

Good luck!
posted by iamkimiam at 4:39 PM on May 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I pronounce the single r as an 'alveolar tap' and the double r as an 'alveolar trill'. My problem is just when it comes after another (dreaded) consonant.
Any other consonant? How are you with the R's in "sobre" or "sangre" or "hambre"?

It sounds from your examples like you're having especial trouble with clusters that have another alveolar sound right before the R. Yes?
You have trouble with this because the very fine muscles of your mouth aren't toned or strong enough. A native speaker would've been building this strength since birth.

What you need is actually specialized speech therapy to properly identify the right set of exercises, which can be simple to perform but must be tailored for your specific issue.
Not true. This is not a muscle strength issue. Spanish speakers don't have stronger mouth muscles than English speakers, or strength in a different set of muscles. Unless you've got a neuromuscular disorder you are unlikely to need any sort of special strengthening exercise or physical therapy.

This is like learning how to juggle, or to ride a bicycle. It's a matter of coordination and awareness rather than strength. Deliberate practice helps. Patience helps. But the thing that's most helpful is to have a teacher (or any native speaker, really, or even a more advanced student) who can give you feedback in person on your attempts — "okay, that third time you said sonrisa was better than the first two." Giving phonetic advice via text is hard!
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:15 PM on May 3, 2013

I think that may be a part of your first language accent that sticks with you. After 11 years living in a Spanish-speaking country, I'm fluent, and my accent is deemed better than others, but still far from perfect. I can pronounce the double r with no problem, and starting a word with a single r is fine, however... I still hate the way I say "car@" "pera" y "rar@" or "refrigerador" - which I suspect might be same linguistic challenge you are dealing with.

Hmm. Upon pronouncing "alrededor" I notice that I slip in a quick double trill, if you can imagine that, which I seem to use to compensate for the soft r that I can't seem to produce.
posted by Locochona at 6:27 PM on May 3, 2013

The r in rosa and the rr in perro are the same sound--in standard Spanish, word-initial r is supposed to be trilled, not tapped. There are dialects that do different things with that sound (some don't have trills at all), but the standard is to have it be a trill, and I've never encountered a dialect that distinguished between word-initial and word-internal-intervocalic. (Doesn't mean one doesn't exist, in a language with so many millions of speakers, you can always find someone somewhere who does something... but I think it's pretty unlikely.) So, yeah, don't let the orthographic convention (writing the sound as rr in some places and r in others) mislead you.

As a non-native speaker, I've always dealt with words like sonrisa by nasalizing the preceding vowel... which is hard to explain in text alone! But basically, the tip of the tongue moves toward the alveolar ridge but doesn't touch it. It's easier to transition into the trill without a pause that way. With alrededor and words like it I tend to nearly drop the l in favor of the trill. It feels almost like I'm velarizing the l, but I'm a few years out of phonetics class and I'm not comfortable trying to be more confident than that.

When looking at word boundaries... I'd pronounce a phrase like en realidad the same way, by nasalizing the e, not pronouncing the n, and trilling the r. For word combinations where the sound before the trill is s, like las rosas, I just elide the s sound and pronounce it as if it were one word written as (for example) larrosas. Many native speakers do this (drop the s), and others keep the s and turn the r into a fricative. Further reading.
posted by Kosh at 6:52 PM on May 3, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have this same problem, particularly if an 'r' follows an 'l.' I'm a native English speaker.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:26 AM on May 4, 2013

Kosh: Really helpful!
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:29 AM on May 4, 2013

If visualizations/audio helps, this site has one example of the flap after a cluster and another of the trill after a cluster (the tricky alrededor!), plus many other r examples. The difference seems to be voiced (triste = tap/flap) vs. voiceless (alrededor = trill).
posted by pitrified at 10:34 AM on May 4, 2013

Argh, upon reading Kosh's helpful link, it seems to be not voiced/voiceless but rather alveolar (post n, l, or s) or not, so disregard my last sentence.

I still like that phonetics site, though.
posted by pitrified at 10:42 AM on May 4, 2013

Great responses, thank you :)
posted by iamsuper at 12:43 PM on May 4, 2013

Being a native Spanish speaker I can´t really help you, as I have no idea of what I do to pronounce that.

I just want to clarify a few things that were mentioned in some answers.

Single Rs are trilled a lot of the time, the double R is an orthographic convention to indicate a trilled R were normally it wouldn´t be. Rs at the beginning or end of a word are trilled, as well as when when they are preceeded by an L, R or S, or when followed by a consonant.

Also, what Kosh says about dropping Ns doesn´t sound right. Ns are never dropped in Spanish.
And I´ve never heard anyone without a speech impediment drop an S entirely unless it´s at the end of a phrase. It usually gets replaced by ⟨h⟩ (voiceledd glottal fricative, as the first h in "high"). "Las rosas" could be pronounced as "la⟨h⟩ rosa⟨h⟩" or "la⟨h⟩ rosa".

Oh, and if you pronounce "alerrededor" you would be understood anyway, you would just sound like a very cheese radio announcer (some really do say things like "¡Muye buenossse díasse! ¡Bienevenidos a ótero porograma de Alerrededor dele Miquerófono!"
posted by Fermin at 6:28 PM on May 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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