The sound I'm referring to is the alveolar trill (/r/), as found in Spanish word "carro", though that is just an example in one language.

I learned how to make this sound by making positioning my tongue in different ways and sputtering while being coached by a native Spanish speaker. If he hadn't been there to listen and push me in the right direction, I doubt I'd have accomplished it.

This is often a particularly difficult sound to produce yet it is used in several languages (Spanish, Italian, Czech, Thai, etc.). How can I explain to students how they can make this sound themselves? E.g. where to place the tongue, how to breathe, etc.

  • 1
    Related: spanish.stackexchange.com/q/1273/12
    – Flimzy
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 6:47
  • For Swedish, my language tutor simply recommended that I switch dialects of Swedish. For Thai, I had no solution in regards to the "harsh r sound." I could never produce that sound. I don't know how viable switching dialects is for other languages, but it's worth some research. It could just be that my dialect of English is too deeply ingrained in me. Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 2:55

4 Answers 4


Note that this answer partially relies on personal experience, as my L1 is Italian.

Explaining the tongue position

When rolling the R, the tongue must be behind your incisors.

Sound generation

The biggest difference between the soft-R and the rolled-R is the source of where the r gets generated.

When doing a soft-R you generate the sound in your throat. When pronouncing a rolled-R, it gets generated by the movement of of your tongue against your upper cavity behind your incisors.


Other than that, I found that the best trick for actually making it work, is the following:

1. Use some ‘butter’

American and other English speakers may be surprised to hear that many of them can already produce a rolled ‘r’ sound!!

When you say the word “butter” quickly, the ‘tt’ sound is produced by flapping your tongue against the roof of your mouth, rather than a normal ‘t’ sound (like tree). USE THIS.

It may not be precisely the same as a rolled ‘r’ (depending on the language and dialect you are aiming for), but it is mountains more convincing than the English ‘r’ at the end of the same word is.

Try changing one letter at a time from ‘butter’ until you have your target word (e.g. caro) – use this sound and you’re work is pretty much done!


while this sounds different than a rolled-R, it's a good way to explain the tongue position.

  • 3
    'butter' is not said with a rolled R sound. It's said with an alveolar tap (IPA: /ɾ/), which is similar, but not the same, as the voiced alveolar trill, which is the rolled R (IPA: /r/). The alveolar tap is spoken in Spanish, and is spelled as "r" or "rr", depending on the word, but it is not the same as a rolled R. The quote touches on this difference, but mostly inaccurately-- the alveolar tap is never the same as a rolled R. Some languages use one or the other, many languages use both.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 11:43
  • Fully agreed. I tried to edit in to explain better what I wanted to say. It's a good way to explain the starting tongue positioning to then proceed with the differences.
    – Daniele D
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 11:52

I find the Spanish "r"/alveolar tap ("caro") (and by extension: "rr" ("carro") - alveolar trill) is like a mutation of the English "d" sound, but the sound is somewhat more muted/softened, as the tongue gently makes contact with the roof of the mouth for but an instant.

Holding the tongue near the roof of the mouth results in the "rolled r"/trill sound. The tongue must be relaxed/loose for this to work, close to the roof of your mouth, and you must have a good stream of air passing over your tongue (between it and the roof of your mouth), because the trill works because of a drop in pressure in that gap, which actually occurs due to Bernoulli's principle. More detail here.

Unfortunately, everybody learns differently, so if you don't get it with this method, the other answers here are of excellent quality as well!


This video explains how brass musicians learn how to "flutter tongue", which is really only an alveolar trill.

From my own experience, this method might work: place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth towards the back. Start with the tongue tense in such a way that prevents exhalation, and gradually release that tension while trying to push air out of your lungs.

  • Under highest tension, your tongue will prevent you from exhaling through your mouth because it will be attached to the roof of your mouth.
  • As you start to relax that tension, you will hear rushing air, but no trill.
  • Once sufficiently lax, the tip of your tongue should begin to trill.

I believe that high air pressure is a requirement for this consonant to be pronounceable. This pressure comes from trying to push air out from over your elevated tongue. I should mention, though, that I am a native speaker of American English, and I do not speak any languages that utilize an alveolar trill. This is mainly knowledge from my experience as a musician and as a phonology nerd.


As @Daniele D pointed out in her (Correct me if I am wrong) answer, the rolled "R" is produced by the tongue on the roof of the mouth behind the incisors.

From personal experience as a native English speaker, I do plenty of flutters with my tongue for me to do it better. If the fluttering does not work as for me after certain letters, particularly "F", an "L" sound produced with the same tongue position would do well enough.

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