Just like the Spanish r, the Italian r rolls, too. In the video below, our Italian teacher Mara explains how to roll your r in Italian. She also shares 5 tips and some exercises to do at home to improve your pronunciation of this famous r roll, which can be difficult for us English speakers! But with her techniques and a bit of practice and patience, you’ll manage it.
5 Tricks to Learn How to Roll Your R in Italian
It may seem like overkill to write an article about the rolled Italian r, but we don’t think so. The /r/ sound is a very common one found in many languages, such as Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian for example. Yet other languages do not have it at all. Each language pronounces it in a different and unique way. This article is here to help you learn to pronounce it like a true native Italian speaker.
First of all, you need to know that the /r/ sound is a voiced alveolar trill consonant. Say what now? That simply means that your lips, your tongue, the roof of your mouth, and your teeth have to work together to pronounce it correctly. But don’t worry, we’re here for you in this difficult time. We’ve got some tips and some exercises to train you. We’ll explain how to roll your r in Italian, one step at a time.
1. Concentrate on the sound
The first trick is… to listen carefully! Watch videos in Italian on YouTube, for instance. Listen to them again and again so that the rolled r in Italian becomes a familiar sound. In the video below, pay particular attention to the words with the /r/ sound and listen to how to pronounce them.
Generally, you need to focus on the /r/ sound whenever you immerse yourself in the Italian language. The best way to improve your pronunciation is, and always will be, listening and repetition. Do it as often as possible: listening and repetition are your best friends. You’ll also broaden your vocabulary. Useful for communicating, right? So, listen to the Italian r as often as possible and feel free to watch the following video several times.
To learn more about words and expressions in Italian, you can also check out our article about Italian slang.
2. Position your tongue correctly
To pronounce your /r/ like a native Italian speaker, you have to know where to put your tongue. The r is a letter that requires your lips, tongue, palate (the roof of your mouth), and teeth work together. In fact, the sound comes from the vibration of your tongue behind your front teeth. Pay attention to the position of your tongue. It should not touch your front teeth, but it should come close, “suspended” in the air. Then, when you push air out of your mouth, it should vibrate.
Warning: if your tongue is too close to the roof of your mouth, the sound will get stuck. On the contrary, if it’s too far away, it won’t vibrate. The trick is to let the tip of your tongue lightly touch the back of your front teeth.
To learn this, all you can do is practice. Repeat the movement until you can do it right nearly every time. Try it in front of a mirror. Check the position of your tongue in relation to your teeth, and see exactly what each part of your mouth is doing.
3. Relax your tongue
To learn a language, there’s one important rule: relax. And that means your tongue, too. It’s important if you want to make beautiful vibrations and pronounce the Italian r correctly. It’s not easy to relax your tongue, because it’s a very active muscle, and we don’t need to do it to pronounce most other sounds. So take all the time you need. Relaxing your tongue and exhaling the air makes it vibrate. If it doesn’t, you probably aren’t relaxed enough, and you’ll get sounds similar to a /d/ or /t/.
You can also practice pronouncing words that start with “d,” “t,” “b,” or “p” and have an “r” in the second position. As for example “dritto,” “treno,” “pratica,” or “bravo.” With regular practice, you’ll be able to pronounce them correctly. And if you can already, congratulations! That means that you have already made a lot of progress.
4. Let air circulate
To get beautiful vibrations and roll your r like a true Italian native, air must be able to pass between your tongue and your palate.
There is a useful exercise to get your tongue to vibrate properly: it’s called a pernacchia. If you are learning Italian and you don’t know what it means yet, it simply means making this sound: “prrrrrrr.” To do this and improve your Italian r roll, start by dragging out the basic sound, then use your vocal cords to make noise. Lower your jaw without stopping the sound, then move your tongue to your front teeth without stopping the vibration.
If all goes well, you should produce a rolled r. If not, don’t worry. The next trick will help you.
As usual, we recommend that you practice again and again. As for learning Italian in general, the key to success is practice! If you work on it every day, you’ll make lots of progress in a very short time. We have one last important tip: choose a few keywords and use them in your daily practice. Repeat them as often as possible until you know how to pronounce them correctly. You can start with:
- grazie (= thank you)
- barra (= bar)
- tratto (= suddenly)
- quadro (= setting, surroundings)
- ricco (= rich)
Once you know how to roll your r in Italian with these words, add a few others to your repertoire.
Watch How It’s Done: How to Roll Your R in Italian
Sometimes seeing is believing… So Mara, our Italian teacher, recorded a video for you to help you out. She explains how to roll your r in Italian, and gives you some tips and practical exercises to do at home. Her video is in Italian, there are subtitles in Italian and English (plus 4 other languages). You can turn the subtitles on by clicking on the gear at the bottom right of your screen.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel: you’ll find loads more handy videos there.
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