How can I learn to roll my Rs?
June 6, 2013 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Never been able to do it before; it never really mattered. Now I need to do it for a part... help!

I'm 23*(cough.. ok, 40 actually).

I've never been able to roll my Rs. It's never particularly mattered, either, although I've always been a bit sad I couldn't enjoy what appears to be a rather pleasurable vocal technique.

Shanyhoo, I'm a performer. And I've just been given a part which has a fairly central R rolling component. If I can't do it, I can't do it... but maybe now this is finally my opportunity to learn!

How can I learn to roll my Rs, metafilter? What are your failsafe tips? You've never let me down before...
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to type something up, but basically I would have typed this.
posted by gauche at 7:25 AM on June 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I wanted to learn when I started taking Spanish in high school. I just practiced a ton, all the time. You start by trying to do the first part of the sound, then keep pushing and pushing and eventually get it.
posted by radioamy at 7:36 AM on June 6, 2013

When I was taking Spanish, I learned by saying "butter" over and over again, progressively faster and faster.
posted by be11e at 7:42 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can vouch for the "substituting D" method from gaucho's link.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:01 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you should specify what language you're going towards. A German rolled-R is really different from a Spanish rolled-R, for example.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:10 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

One caveat on that wikihow link: it claims that if you can't roll your tongue, you can't roll your r's. This is bullshit. Non-tongue roller here, and Spanish r-rolling is no problem for me. I agree that the step-by-step instructions there should work, though.
posted by dr. boludo at 8:19 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try rolling your "d"s first.

That's how I learned to roll "r"s.

It may come out like a baby saying, "Daeeee Daeee" but I found it easier to figure out the tongue movement. Then I moved my tongue to the top of my mouth and tried to make a d and it came out an r.

It took me maybe two months to really get it down.
posted by zizzle at 8:26 AM on June 6, 2013

Response by poster: I think you should specify what language you're going towards. A German rolled-R is really different from a Spanish rolled-R, for example.

ha! funnily enough that's actually an impossible question to answer. Because it just so happens the words/lyrics are in a fictitious language. A sort of North African Australian American English. But to all intents and purposes it sounds to me (I have a recording to listen to) like a Spanish rolled R. That'd be good enough, anyway...
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 8:32 AM on June 6, 2013

Saying "pot o'tea" over and over can help you get a feel for tongue placement for the Spanish R.
posted by ambrosia at 8:51 AM on June 6, 2013

Pretend you are a cat purring. You have to practice vibrating your tongue against the top of your upper palate. If you can do that, you can do any kind of rolling r, regardless of dialect.
posted by h00py at 8:56 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Put on the Sex Pistols real loud and sing along. Seriously, this worked for me. He doesn’t roll all his rs, but he gets a good one in now and then — “I use the best / I use the rrrrest” in Anarchy in the UK; “I want to see some of historrrry” in Holidays in the Sun, etc.

This method works best if you are in the car driving fast in the summertime.
posted by brianconn at 9:23 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm here to nth the link that gauche gave. Specifically point 7. That method (saying a D instead of the R) was used on me when I was about six years old and could not say any kind of R.
Find or make up words with plenty of Rs and replace them with Ds. Practice. Practice. Practice some more. It will work.

Start with words that have the R after a consonant. The (Dutch) word that worked best for me was Krentenbroodkruimels.


Look, a bdown tduck cduising on the tdain tdacks!

Once you get this down, work on words that start with R. Put an H in from of the R to make it doable.
posted by Too-Ticky at 10:26 AM on June 6, 2013

Not sure what kind of rolled "r" you mean - rolling the tongue or back of the throat. When speaking French, I roll my "r" in the back of my throat, which sort of feels like hacking up a loogie. (Jesus I'm old.) So for that "r", try hacking like you have something stuck back there but can only get it out by the lower throat muscles.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:45 AM on June 6, 2013

This is exactly what speech therapists are for. I couldn't pronounce my R's as a child (in Russia where they are distinctly rolled) and a speech therapist "fixed" me in two sessions. I recall she literally stuck her (gloved) hand in my mouth and put my tongue in the right place.
posted by rada at 11:38 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know if this sounds like the real deal to native speakers, but it does to me:

Spanish R: Can you make machine gun sounds? If so, do that, and then (without stopping the machine gun sounds) start humming.

French R: Clear your throat.
posted by Flunkie at 12:04 PM on June 6, 2013

Good luck! I never managed to learn. My phonetics lecturer couldn't quite believe that I couldn't do it. I've long since given up trying.

I suspect this might have something to do with my tongue being tied quite close to the front of my mouth: it doesn't have much freedom of movement, and it's miles away from being able to touch my nose. My wife's tongue's the same, and she can't roll her 'r's either.

My french rolled 'r' is impeccable, though.
posted by ZipRibbons at 12:30 PM on June 6, 2013

My choir instructor would tell people who couldn't roll R's to say the h sound (like the h in haha) before a d sound (like the d in duh) so it sounds a bit like huh-duh said very rapidly. I think it's an effective workaround.
posted by hannahelastic at 1:37 PM on June 6, 2013

Disclaimer: I am not familiar with the technical terminology of linguistics and I'm too lazy to look things up.

I have some experience in going between Italian and English, and if the language you're going to be speaking is English-y in the sense that it's spoken in a more gutteral/back of the mouth way, it may be easier to work on a throaty rolled r like the French (and maybe Scottish?) one. Romance languages like Spanish and Italian are pronounced more at the front of the mouth (I told you I didn't know the technical terms), and changing styles mid-sentence can feel awkward. (Which is why I sound like Sylvia Poggioli reporting from Rome after returning from a couple of weeks visiting family in Italy instead of my usual generic Mid-Atlanticness.)

Also, the d thing works, plus practice. I also find it easier to do the roll smoothly when I'm singing.
posted by camyram at 2:11 PM on June 6, 2013

Say the syllable "thur". Does your tongue flip just a little at the end of it? Good. Work with that. The roll happens at the first part of your tongue, the tip really. As you say that syllable, your tongue pulls back and you have that little flip at the end. Keep pushing out air and playing around with it and I bet you will get it.

(I never could roll my r's either. Then, no kidding, I became a Charismatic, got baptized in the Holy Spirit, and I speak in tongues (considered a prayer language)-and my prayer language is FULL of rolled r's. Yup, I was shocked too. )

Anyway, hope that helped.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:12 PM on June 6, 2013

Seconding speech therapist, one that takes an approach of muscles and exercises. If you tighten/loosen certain muscles, it'll happen on its own and you won't even have to "try."

That said ... You're an adult now. It will be harder for you, just because you're working against years and years of built up musculature and connective tissue.

You may be better off trying to avoid it, if you can, on stage. Some kind of elegant workaround?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:25 PM on June 6, 2013

I learned how to do it in about 6 months. I was dating my now husband at the time and I was lamenting how I couldn't roll my Rs. It took a lot of spittle but slowly I managed it a little bit at a time (and I would be so surprised I woud interrupt my roll with "Oh I did it!") and now I can RRRRrrrrrrrrr til the cows come home. You can do it! It does take practice, but your mouth muscles will start to learn as you get closer to the sound you want. I really just put it down to practice.

If I had any tips it would be that the main thing I had to learn was to flex the back of my tongue but still relax the tip.
posted by like_neon at 1:41 AM on June 7, 2013

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