Cooking. Algebra. Squats. There are some things I just can’t do. And for years I had convinced myself that trilling my R belonged on the can’t list, something I was perfectly fine with. I’d heard the excuses before–it’s genetic, some people, even native Spanish speakers, just plain can’t do it. Obviously, I was one of those people. I couldn’t roll an R and that was okay.
Until I decided to dust off the old Spanish and dive straight back in. Suddenly, there were all these words I couldn’t say. I was calling dogs buts and I couldn’t do anything about it. Spanish is already hard enough without adding in an entire letter (sound?) I can’t make.
So I started practicing. I watched all the youtube videos, I read all the articles. Nothing came close to working. Again, I came to the conclusion that I was just physically incapable.
But fun fact about me, I HATE being bad at things. At anything. I honestly think this is why Spanish is such a struggle for me–I hate how long it takes to learn the grammatical rules, the vocab. I feel like I’m failing if a week in I can’t read Harry Potter or understand native speakers in Spanish youtube videos. That is obviously the WRONG way to approach learning a language, and I really do think I’m learning to relax into the process, not put too much pressure on myself, and just let the learning happen. That said, I think all my perfectionism and impatience found an outlet by zeroing in on one thing. That thing being the trilled r.
Hence, the practice. For weeks now I’ve been trying. Sometimes I’d think I was close and I’d show my roommate and she’d laugh like a terrible person and I’d realize that only in my head did it sound like anything at all.
But then I realized, you couldn’t hear it (I tested this by recording myself). But I could FEEL it. I could feel my tongue starting to vibrate. I knew I was close. Last night I locked myself in my room and made crazy sounds for HOURS. The more frustrated I got, the crazier I sounded, until I was SURE I was doing it. Spoiler alert: I was not. But I really was close. I showed my roommate, she was a little more encouraging. I sent it to my boyfriend and he was shocked I couldn’t just do it, he didn’t know it was a sound people struggled to make (PS I hate him). I sent it to roommate’s Spanish speaking sister in law, she said I really was close. To move my tongue closer to my teeth.
(This video is highly embarrassing, I was never planning on showing anyone. BUT if it gives just one person hope or insight into the process, then it’s worth it. That said, excuse the crazy hair, terrible angle, and oversized t-shirt.)
I spent all day sitting in my office like a true psycho, trying to whisper a trill to myself. Probably not the most effective method, but it loosened my tongue up. Then I had to run an errand and was so pent up and just READY to have figured it out, I started doing it REALLY loudly. I had read this could help. Also that singing can make it super easy, and also that it could make it damn near impossible. I started making the sound in gibberish, because it felt like that’s kind of what my tongue should be doing. Basically, I was throwing anything and everything at my alveolar ridge, trying to crush its spirit. (In my head we were in a war.)
And then like magic, something happened. A trilling sound came out. It was almost like I could roll my r. There were all kinds of limitations: only for a few seconds, pretty much only when the word STARTED with an R, and it only worked about 50% of the time. BUT. SOMETHING was happening.
I took a million videos because even though I wasn’t at 100%, I was at something and I was so scared it was a one time occurrence. For one night only, watch Kristen nearly roll an R! But also to remind myself that it IS possible. Obviously I’m not completely there yet, but there’s no anatomical reason why I can’t do it. The only thing holding me back is my own self doubt. Also to maybe give other people hope, because I was pretty much hopeless and lookie here, I’m really kind of doing it!
**Please ignore the fact that I look and sound like a CRAZY person in all of these videos. I can’t really do it unless I go really fast and kind of loudly. They’re gonna love me in Spain.