For some, pronouncing the Spanish R comes easily and naturally. But for others it takes practice and patience. If you fall into the second camp, prepare to have all your pre-conceived notions about Spanish pronunciation shattered in just a matter of minutes. Ok, maybe that's a bit dramatic, but nevertheless, this technique has never failed any of my students. So get ready because this could be the blog post that sets you free. In just a few minutes, it's very possible you'll be rolling your R's like Lou Diamond Phillips singing La Bamba in my favorite move from 1987.
The hard English "R"
In English we use what I call the "hard R", which is best depicted in a pirate's growl..."Arghh". This is an extreme example, I know, but I use it to emphasize what you don't want to say when speaking the Spanish R. English words such as "are", "senior", and "air" are additional examples of what not to use as your guiding examples when learning the Spanish R.
The Spanish "R"
Contrast those with the Spanish "R", which is much lighter, faster, and delicate. At its essence, the Spanish R is pronounced when a small puff of air coming from your through that--with the tip of your tongue lightly touching the roof of your mouth--pushes your tongue forward just slightly enough for the air to escape. This action makes a little bump sound, which is the sound you want to target. The proper double R sound can be produced by a rapid repeat of this motion, where your tongue flaps back and forth near the roof of your mouth as one by one little pockets of air escape rapidly (what I refer to in the video below as the helicopter or cat sound).
Think of the Spanish word "Para", which means "to", "for", or "stop". English speakers will have a tendency to pronounce it "Par-uh", which is incorrect. The correct pronunciation is more similar to "Pod-uh". As a first step, you can simply replace the "R" in "Para" with an English "D" and pronounce it "Pod-uh". Notice how when you say it correctly this way the tip of your tongue naturally finds its place near the roof of your mouth for a split second. This first step in itself should prove that you can roll your R's!
The next piece is to repeat "Pod-uh" over and over again as you slowly lighten the degree to which your tongue touches the roof of your mouth each time you say "R". Start repeating the word slowly and don't be afraid to over-emphasize each letter at first so you can really feel your tongue strike upward against the top of your mouth...POD-uh, POD-uh, POD-uh... Gradually speed up the repetition and as you do, scale back the force of each tongue strike.
In English we have heavy, forceful sounds, so training your mouth muscles to be lighter and more delicate may sound funny, but it's a big part of proper pronunciation as well as developing an authentic Spanish accent. Repeating this exercise will train the muscles in your tongue and mouth to get more agile, soft, and quick. I like to compare this to a soccer player who begins with heavy, solid feet, without a lot of control. But over time she learns to be light and soft on her feet to really glide swiftly with the ball.
Udder and Butter
Two more examples of words that can help you develop this technique are "udder" and "butter". Repeat the exercise above with these two words. As you say them faster and faster and as your tongue becomes lighter and lighter, drop the "-er" and simply extend the "d" and "t" over and over again, like this:
uddddddddddd and buttttttt
Doing this exercise with these two words will specifically help improve your ability to roll the double R. The video below will explain this with more clarity, but the desired objective is to make the helicopter sound.
This technique has helped lots of students, many of whom were convinced they would never learn to roll their R's. Instead of stopping here, watch the video below to actually hear these sounds and practice rolling the Spanish R and double R with me.
Some people may wonder if it would be more effective to learn Spanish by actually going to a Spanish speaking country and learning the language through immersion. While there are immense benefits to being able to immerse yourself in a language and culture, there are a couple drawbacks too that you should be aware of. So in the spirit of simplicity, here is the eSpanishTeacher list of pros and cons for learning a language by living in a foreign country.
1. An experience you will likely never forget
2. You will meet amazing people that will become lifelong friends
3. You'll gain an appreciation for new cultures, customs, new ways of thinking, and new perspectives on life; you're also likely to increase your appreciation for diversity of thought, value systems, social structures, etc.
4. Not only will you learn the language, you'll pick up the regional accent, slang, vocabulary, and linguistic nuances specific to that region.
1. You will surely miss out on learning the structure of the Spanish language. In a formalized learning setting you'll be taught the construct of the language, how communication is put together, rules for structuring sentences, grammar, pronunciation, agreement, irregular uses of certain words, etc. For many students, this foundation is essential as a jumping off point for reinforcing confidence and further development of language skills. If you miss out on this, you may find yourself asking basic questions down the road and lacking the confidence you need to refine your speaking skills.
2. Whether it's pronunciation, grammar, or vocuabulary, you may form bad habits that are difficult to overcome.
3. Similar to #2, you may learn uses of words or rules that are unique to your specific region and when you travel outside that region you could be so entrenched in "your way" of communicating that you are unable or unwilling to pivot and adapt to the new region's way of communicating.
4. Living away can be costly and can disrupt balance in your life. While some people jump at the chance for new adventures, a move to a foreign country to learn a language would require one to dedicate many months at a minimum to the endeavor. Proficiency in Spanish is not something that can be achieved in a matter of a few weeks. Uprooting your life to live abroad has some very real ramifications that need to be considered, to name a few:
-leaving/changing jobs, finding employment
-legal status in the new country
-diet and lifestyle changes
So while learning a language by physically moving and immersing yourself in another country's culture could be a wonderful experience, there are realities that should be considered.
If you've already read through our top reasons to learn Spanish and still aren't convinced, get some perspective from watchmojo's piece on the most difficult languages to learn.
Lucie Fink studied Spanish in high school but hasn't spoken much at all since then. Now, she wants to brush up on her Spanish language skills in a quick 5 days. Is it possible in such a short time to effectively start speaking Spanish? Watch the youtube video and find out how well Lucie does on her 5-day crash course to re-learning how to speak Spanish.
I won't give away the result, but Lucie does cite four main principles where she'll have to be disciplined: time, dedication, practice, and repetition. Watch the short video to see how she does.
Many new Spanish speakers hear "usted" used by other Spanish speakers, but often don't know what it means, when to use it, and how to use it.
"Usted" is simply another subject in the Spanish subject chart and it means "you". Wait, does that mean there are two subjects that both mean "you" in Spanish? Si, señor (yes sir).
So at this point the important question to answer is when and how to use Usted. Ana is going to answer all those questions for you in the video below. ¡Buena suerte!
Learning Spanish should be fun, a little challenging, and extremely rewarding. The eSpanishTeacher philosophy is that students should first build a foundation in Spanish verbs and verb conjugation. Once the foundation has beeb built, the student will be in such a great position to move forward learning all the other principles that are built upon the foundation.
There are of course many sub-strategies you can employ to facilitate your language skill development. Here are some tips & perspectives from Sasha Little on how you might learn Spanish faster and more effectively.
Here is a video from Señor Jordan where he teaches some basic words for clothing, like camisa, camiseta, pantalones, zapatos, and much more.
Here is a summary of 25 important verbs all Spanish speakers should learn as early as possible. If you are equipped with a small number of important Spanish verbs, you'll be surprised how much you can actually say. Learning these is a much more effective approach than simply memorizing a few phrases to get around town.
Remember that you'll receive the eSpanishTeacher 101 Spanish Verbs course when you purchase our Beginner Spanish course. This course will teach you to use the 101 most common verbs in the entire Spanish language and you'll get plenty of practice speaking out loud.
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You need to learn Spanish from a specific region of the world or a specific Spanish dialect, right? You're not interested in learning Spain Spanish 'cause you're traveling to Mexico or maybe visa versa. The truth is that there are roughly 21 countries where Spanish is the official language and many more where Spanish is commonly spoken. Additionally, inside each of these countries there are provinces and regions where the dialects vary widely. Given this reality, how are you supposed to find a Spanish language program that targets the specific region within the specific country you'll be traveling to?
LangFocus has a great explanation of all the various Spanish dialects. He supports what we've always said that students should learn the mechanics of Spanish first. Then, once they are grounded in the basics (grammar, vocab, usage, number/gender agreement, pronunciation, etc), they can start learning and immersing themselves in the regional Spanish dialects, slang, and other language quirks. In other words, learn the language rules first and then you'll be in a position to break them.
Spanish originated in the Castille region of Spain and as it migrated further and further from that area the language evolved. Despite regional changes, grammar rules and the language mechanics are fairly consistent throughout the world, which is what the eSpanishTeacher program teaches. Once you're interfacing with Spanish speakers from a given region, it won't take long before you pick up on their slang, dialect, accent, and more.
For more Spanish help, visit these great language resources:
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Learn Spanish on eBay
Learn Spanish on Groupon
Learn Spanish online with Udemy
If you're learning the Spanish language for the first time or refreshing your language skills after years of not using them, here are 5 things you need to know to get the most out of your early Spanish education.
5. Number & Gender
In English, nouns, articles, and adjectives don't have to agree in number & gender. But in Spanish agreement between these three is of the highest importance. The advice to new speakers is to make understanding this principle a priority and start using it right away. You'll make mistakes in the beginning, but don't hold back because your hard work early on will pay off soon. If this is confusing, let me break it down for you:
La bicicleta roja es buena = The red bike is good
La = article
bicicleta = noun
buena = adjective
Las bicicletas rojas son buenas = The red bikes are good
Las = article
bicicletas = noun
buenas = adjective
Understanding basic pronunciation is vital to proper Spanish speaking. To avoid forming bad habits that will make you look foolish down the road, start learning & implementing proper pronunciation in the things you say now, even if it's difficult. Spanish is great because with only a few exceptions, most of the letters in the Spanish language are pronounced exactly the same every time. So once you've memorized the proper pronunciation, it will become natural and you won't give it a second thought. But native Spanish speakers will notice right away and give you credit for the importance you've placed on pronunciation. For help with pronunciation, check out my Beginner course.
3. Step into the Darkness
As with learning any new skill, many of us begin our learning experience with a lot of energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. But over time as reality sets in we find that learning & developing skills is not always easy, so we become discouraged. No doubt you'll encounter this...everyone does. Those that successfully navigate these moments have something in common.
I've always believed that anything worth doing is not going to come easily, which means it's worth our time to have patience, set a lot of small & realistic goals, and persevere through the difficult moments because that's where the most growth and learning takes place.
I learned early on that it's crucial to develop a "stick-to-it-ness" when it comes to learning Spanish. Instead of getting discouraged by the obstacles you're certain to encounter, consider them "moments of truth" where your true character will be revealed. When I hit roadblocks in the early days, one trick I used often was to know that the answer exists somewhere. I didn't have it, so I needed to get it. Don't get me wrong, learning Spanish is not nearly as difficult at advanced algebra or quantitative analysis. It's more similar to learning to play an instrument where you might fumble with the notes but with a lot of repetition and practice the masterpiece will finally reveal itself.
So when you face those moments of unknown (any moment where you find your progress is stopped by missing pieces), don't give up. Taking a step into the darkness means that you are willing to identify a few things you can do to solve the problem and start taking action to pursue those steps. Doing this will reveal clues and information that will fill in the puzzle and allow you to make progress. Stepping into the darkness is a skill that helps in many areas of life (business, family, school, relationships) and like any muscle it requires training and development. Over a time if you are developing this muscle, you'll get really good at working through barriers, whether it's related to the Spanish language or some other aspect of life.
2. Practice Practice Practice
One of the best strategies to start speaking Spanish fast doesn't require a teacher in a classroom. Instead of sitting and listening, start speaking the language! You might ask, "well how do I speak the language if I don't know it yet?" Good question. The answer is to find one of your favorite books in Spanish, a book with a story that is familiar to you, so that you can still follow the story as you read. Then, in a quiet, private location, read the book out loud in Spanish. That's right, read the Spanish text out loud!
Not only will this help your pronunciation, but it will help you hear how the language flows. It's a form of training your ear and tongue to hear and mimic the Spanish language. I often hear people who learn English as a second language that one of the best aids for them was watching TV in English. Reading a book out loud is similar to this.
1. Master verbs
One of the skills new Spanish speakers should prioritize is that of conjugating verbs properly. Learning and speaking using conjugated verbs is not difficult--especially in the present tense--and mastering this skill will have immediate returns. Learning to conjugate verbs in Spanish doesn't take long and it does more than any other skill to improve you ability to communicate complete thoughts, significantly expanding your vocabulary along the way.
This is where we chat about all things Spanish. Feel free to ask a question, challenge me, passionately disagree, or rant about whatever. Just make it interesting.