Why can't everyone roll their 'r's?

With patience and a bit of practice, anyone can learn to make those ‘r’s r-r-roll.

21st June 2018
Why can't everyone roll their 'r's? © Getty

Asked by: Awa Souare, Rock Springs, Wyoming

It’s a misconception that some people are destined never to roll their ‘r’s. In countries with ‘r’ rolling languages, many people learn the skill in childhood. Spanish is an example of one such language. However, those yet to master the skill need only to practise. The key is to tuck your tongue behind your upper front teeth, resting the tip on the ‘alveolar ridge’ – the small, bony protuberance just behind the teeth. It’s also important to relax the tongue so that it vibrates as the air flows past.

Why can't everyone roll their 'r's? © Raja Lockey
© Raja Lockey

Rolling an ‘r’ is strikingly similar to blowing a raspberry. In fact, some language experts suggest beginning training by blowing a raspberry while humming, or doing a lip trill while moving the tongue up. Be prepared for hours of practise, but perhaps not in the office, unless you have understanding colleagues!

Read more:


SFQASubscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun facts.