Since my first junior-high Spanish classes I have been rankled by my inability to produce a proper rolled ‘R’. Since I began studying Latin at the beginning of the year, my need to triumph over this handicap has become pressing. I’m sure I sound like some sort of Germani barbarian.
Too many interesting languages require the ability to produce a trilled ‘R’: Latin, Russian, Italian, Arabic, Spanish. I am unwilling to accept this as a permanent handicap. Anyone riding in the car with me on my daily commute would be treated to a wide variety of peculiar noises, a few of which are beginning to approach the proper sound.
My goal is nothing less than mastery of the dreaded voiced apical-alveolar trill. I’ve always been able to produce an uvular trill (which was good enough for Vladimir Ilyich), and I can produce the Japanese lateralized rhotic without problems. After many years, I knew that simply hearing more properly-trilled ‘R’s was not going to solve my problem, but I hadn’t been able to find any detailed descriptions of the anatomical details of its production or useful suggestions for achieving it. “Make a noise like a car engine” and “Purr like are cat” are distinctly useless as they send me straight to my uvula.
When I found out that M—— can produce a trilled ‘R’, I drilled her closely about what exactly happens when she produces it, where exactly her tongue contacts her palate. This was a start, but not enough.
The University of Iowa has an anatomical animation of a rolled ‘R’ in action (click on Modo -> Vibrantes -> [r]), and even after watching it over and over and over I still can’t relax enough to let my tongue vibrate passively with the airstream; my trill is conscious, slow, and somewhat clumsy.
Much digging on the Internet has resulting in a wealth of advice, some of which is actually useful. Here are some brief excerpts capturing the more helpful tidbits; refer to the links for the full articles:
From LINGUIST List:
- A trick I use with my students (mostly native English speaking undergrads.) for teaching them how to feel the position of the tongue is to say “I edited it” really fast.
- you have to train the muscles in the mouth which would be developed as a matter of course in speakers of languages where the [r] occurs “naturally”. You do this by repeating the phonemes [t] and [d] (with some kind of neutral schwa sound in between) as fast as you can, for say five minutes a day.
- Don’t know if this works but try to put your tongue where you would for English /l/ and think /tr/, then get rid of it later on.
From Tenser, said the Tensor (quoting Jones and Ward, The Phonetics of Russian):
- Some English people are able to acquire a rolled r by the following method. Pronounce slowly the exercise tədɑːtədɑːtədɑː… preferably with dental t’s and alveolar d’s; then gradually increase the speed. When said very fast indeed, the alveolar d has a tendency to turn into a ‘flapped’ or ‘semi-rolled’ r-sound, i.e. a sound formed after the manner of rolled r but consisting of only one single tap of the tongue (see § 22.4 above). With r representing here the flapped r, the resulting sequence sould be written tərɑːtərɑːtərɑː… or trɑːtrɑːtrɑː… (according to the rate of saying it). It then remains to isolate this r and extend it into the fully rolled sound.
- [From a comment to the article] First try to produce dental plosives ‘t’ and ‘d’ (Remember that ‘t’ and ‘d’ in English are alveolar plosives). Then with the dental plosives try to make syllables like ‘tra’, ‘dra’, ‘tri’, ‘dri’, ‘tru’, ‘dru’ etc. Try to hit the alveolar ridge immediately after articulating the ‘t’ or ‘d’ sound. (Remember that if you use the alveolar ‘t’ or ‘d’ sounds in these syllables, you can’t articulate the following ‘r’ as a tap.) When you can articulate a tap in these syllables, try to articulate a tapped ‘r’ in syllables like ‘ra’, ‘ri’ etc. When you are comfortable with that, you can go and try for a ‘trill’. For the trill, first try it in isolation, and then use them in syllables.
From Babel Babble:
- You put your tongue in a [d], [n], [l] or [t] position. Make the uppermost one or two centimeters of your tongue (but not the actual tip) touch the gum (well, that part up in your mouth where you pronounce most of [d], [n], [l] and [t]). Now you’re ready for the difficult bit. Push some air out strongly so that it flows over your tongue. But don’t leave your tongue static. Use the air to make the tongue vibrate quickly, like an annoying alarm clock: rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrin.
- […] mothers put a spoon on their childrens’ tongues and get them to pronounce a “d” in order to train them to pronounce “r.”
- I think the tricky bit is to feel how strongly you have to push the tongue against the alveolar region, if you press too strong or not strong enough, your tongue won’t make the right sound.
- Curl your tongue up very slightly just behind your top gums. Specifically the tip of your tongue should be loose and just below the roof of the mouth between the upper teeth and the hard palate: the alveolar ridge. The part of your mouth that contains the tooth sockets is the right place to be.
- Depending on the specific language your tongue may be slightly touching your alveolar ridge, or not touching.
- Tense your tongue, but leave the tip loose to vibrate. This sound is known as a trill because it is created with multiple vibrations.
- Breathe out, allowing your tongue to vibrate with the passing air.
- The sound is made because of the Bernoulli’s principle, an aspect of physics which defines the movement of fluids and gas over different shapes, and one of the principles of flight. In other words, the shape of your tongue will partially resemble an airplane wing, with the exhaled air passing over the top of the stiff, shaped lower tongue and vibrating the tip against the ridge like the flaps on an airplane wing.
Has anyone out there managed to learn how to produce an alveolar trill as an adult? I’d be very interested to hear tips or stories.