Learning how to produce the Spanish flap R and the trilled RR can be hard, but it’s not impossible. I learned how to produce both Spanish R sounds when I first started learning Spanish in eighth grade — so it’s possible to learn them “late.” The only thing standing in your way or your students’ way is practicing (and not worrying about sounding dumb).
One caveat is that it’s extremely hard to learn if you have low muscle tone. This is part of why it’s a struggle for students in speech therapy since many of them have issues with muscle tone. The reason is that any movement with the tongue is a fine motor movement and you need to have the strong core muscles to be able to correctly produce it.
One of the strategies I use to teach both the Spanish R sounds is to remind the student to anchor the back of their tongue to the their upper back teeth. Another placement cue for both of the R sounds I give them is to elevate their tongue tip.
The Spanish Flap R
Learning to produce the Spanish flap R is easier if you or your student speaks American English. That’s because it’s present in American English! The words “butter,” “butter,” “water,” and “ladder” have the flap sound in the medial (middle) position. So if you can get the student to transfer their ability to produce that sound in English to Spanish words that have medial R, you or your student will successfully acquire this sound!
However, a monolingual Spanish speaker will have to learn this sound from scratch. I still use the English words to drill my students as almost nonsense words to help them start practicing what their tongue needs to do. Words that have the flap R in Spanish are “pera” (pear), “mira” (look), “para” (for), and “pero” (but). It’s medial R (R in the middle position of words).
The flap R is also called the “tapped” R because the tongue goes up and down tapping the alveolar ridge ever so slightly. In comparison with the trilled R, most students acquire the flap R more readily because it’s not quite as tough.
The Spanish Trilled RR
First let me just describe what I mean by the Spanish trill. It is written as RR in Spanish when it’s in the middle of a word like “perro.” The Spanish RR also is always present in the initial position of a word like “ratón.” It is also present when it is next to N like “Enrique.”
What I’m doing with my tongue is forcing air over it so that it vibrates high in my mouth. Like I said before, the back of my tongue is anchored to my back teeth — that’s important.
Similar to eliciting an English R, making lengthy motor or car noises. It’s also a great way to get students to loosen up their tongue.
Another technique is blowing a raspberry on your hand and then adding your your voice and then your tongue kind of gets involved. It’s great fun for kids!
One of the creative ways I’ve been successful in eliciting the Spanish trill is in a context where it normally doesn’t occur. For example, the word “brazo.” It’s weird that I have elicited RR in a blend where it does not normally occur. My advice is to try it in a blend and just over-exaggerate it.
I’d love to hear your tips for eliciting the Spanish flap R and the trilled RR! Thanks for reading! 🙂