Phonology

How to trill (roll) your R

Producing a trilled (rolled) “r” is not impossible for English speakers. It is easier for some than others. Almost anyone can do it, though. I’m here to tell you how!

First of all, a “trilled r” or a “rolled r” is technically known as an “alveolar trill.” This sound is produced with your tongue, NOT your throat! You may be able to somewhat replicate that rolling sound with your throat, but a native speaker will be able to notice and when you’re speaking Russian you will never get away with it. You must use your tongue!

Follow the steps below to begin trilling your “r” in no time!

It’s as easy as 1-2-3…4-5

1. Relax your tongue

An alveolar trill is produced by allowing air to pass between your tongue and the alveolar ridge. The alveolar ridge is the place at the top of your mouth where you say “t” and “d.” (Say them to find out where it is.)

You should not think of this as a scientific equation or anything though. Just relax your tongue and your mouth and let the sound naturally come.

2. Say “butter”

Listen to this step

When Americans say “butter” they produce what is known as an “alveolar flap.” You may have thought it was a “d” sound, but it’s not. It’s an alveolar flap. This is really close to an alveolar trill.

Say “butter” and “dumb” and notice the difference between what you thought was a “d” sound.

3. Bend the tip of your tongue up

Listen to this step

Say “butter” again, but raise up the tip of your tongue.

4. Let the tip of your tongue vibrate freely, put more breath in the sound

Listen to this step

Repeat step #3, but let the tip of your tongue vibrate freely. Breathe out and allow the vibration to occur for a while. This will help you train your tongue to get used to producing the sound.

If you tongue isn’t fluttering or vibrating. Trying saying “butter” really quickly a lot, like: “butter butter butter butter butter butter!”

5. Let it flutter!

Whenever you do produce that alveolar trill for the first time. Keep on going! Let your tongue get used to this sound. Practice rolling your “r” with English words like:

rope
practice

Or with Russian words like:

русский
мир
театр

I can’t do it!

If you tried the steps above, but still cannot produce an alveolar trill, don’t worry. Some people just naturally cannot produce this sound. Vladimir Lenin could not roll his r’s. If you cannot produce a rolled r, never substitute it with English’s “r” (which is technically an alveolar approximant.) Instead replace it with a “d” sound or that flap sound you say in “butter.”

rope
practice

русский
мир
театр

Russian has two trills!

Okay, if you have learned how to roll your r, great. But guess what. The Russian language technically has two different trills: The hard r (р) and the soft r (рь).

The hard “r” is the normal alveolar trill that we have been learning, but it is slightly retracted and is technically a postalveolar trill. Don’t worry about this, though. You can pass off with an alveolar trill, and eventually learn the native retracted one with your ear.

русский
играть

The soft “r” is a palatalized trill that is produced by touching the tip of your tongue to the back of your front teeth. This is going to be hard, if not impossible for you in the beginning. So I recommend simply trying to mix the hard “r” and “y” in the beginning until you can trill your “r” by touching your teeth. Once you can though, simply raise the middle of your tongue during the trill and you have got yourself the soft r!

рядом
царь

Good luck! Comment and I’ll help more if you need it.

14 thoughts on “How to trill (roll) your R

  1. If you just relax your tongue and blow air out it will trill. I’ve noticed some children make car sounds with their throat and some with their tongue. If they do it with their tongue then they can usually trill easily.

    Trills are often the final consonants learned by children in languages that have them.

    1. Thank you for suggesting to relax the tongue and blow air through it! I can finally feel my tongue flutter which will help me remember how it’s supposed to feel when speaking the ‘rr’. Most helpful advice yet!

      1. My togue trills on my uvula instead of where it’s supposed to when I do that. :-(.

    1. Haris the correct way to produce the ‘R’ sound is to pull your to tongue to the back and the tip of the mouth goes down at the same time like an arrow.
      try that and you should be able to say the R correctly, but the most important thing is do NOT expect to be able to say it from the first time because you have to practice and train your muscle memory.
      Try to write some word that contain the letter R and practice for about 10 minutes every day until you feel comfort and record your self and look at the mirror to see where your tongue at.
      Wish the best.

  2. I loved your article about Russian palatalization and I took careful notes, but I am less impressed about this article about the alveolar trill, which has a completely different mechanism from the alveolar flap/tap, so I am not that sure your advice is useful. Providing a scientific and accurate description does not necessarily help most people to actually produce the sound, but I doubt that providing an inaccurate description can be of any use at all.
    The trill requires that the tongue blocks the lateral air stream by tightening the sides of the tongue, while keeping the tip (and only the tip) slightly slacker, so the air finds its only way out by pushing the tip, which naturally returns to its original position, vibrating in the process, so all the motion is done by the air while you just try to keep your tongue still, maintaining a localized tension in different parts of your tongue. The flap/fat involves a voluntary motion of the tongue against the alveolar ridge, which can actually even be achieved without air. You can be very good at one, but not the other, so trying to find a connection is, in my opinion, pointless and misleading.
    Just my 2 cents.

  3. I learned spanish for a few years and was never able to roll my r’s. I’ve been trying to learn some Russian and this has actually helped me and i think i’m starting to get the hang of it, so thank you!

    1. I hope it comes easy for you. Practice makes perfect. Once you get the flutter, it’s smart to learn the distinction between the two r’s that exist: the hard r (Русский) and the soft r (Река).
      The hard r is a ‘postalveolar trill’ (as in Русский) is pronounced with your tongue fluttering in the position of /sh/, which is further back in the mouth than the trilled r of languages like Spanish. (Their /r/ is ‘alveolar’, which is the same tongue position as the consonants /t/ and /d/).
      The soft r is a ‘palatalized apical dental trill’ (as in Река). That is a long complicated word that is simply translated to: a trill that is palatalized (the middle of the tongue is raised during the articulation of the consonant) with the TIP of the tongue touching the back of the teeth. (Or more specifically, the area where the tissue of the roof of the mouth meets with the back of your top teeth.) That fancy word ‘apical’ means that the tip of the tongue touches the point of articulation (in this case, dental). This is different from the hard r, which is ‘laminal’ which means the BLADE of the tongue touches the postalveolar area. When you pronounce /t/ or /d/ or /n/ or /s/ they are laminal consonants. Furthermore, in everyday spoken Russian, the soft r may not even be a trill at all, it may actually be a palatalized dental tap. Which is like the tap in American English words “buTTer” or “laDDer”, just pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the back of the top teeth (i.e. apical dental).

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