The Spanish R is very challenging for English natives. I made a list of those words that Spanish learners struggle with the most. Some other words are more difficult to say than the ones on the list, but I have selected the 16 most popular words (selected by English natives).
Under each word, you will find:
- The phonetic transcription with IPA symbols, so that know how to pronounce it.
- Audio, to hear how a Spanish native would pronounce it.
- Some examples.
- An explanation: why are those words difficult to say?
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word tortuga?
- First of all, this word is hard for English natives because your mouth muscles have memory. The words turtle and tortoise are very similar so, when you try to say the word tortuga, your muscles try to say the word they know the best (turtle/tortoise).
- The combination of the letters R and T is especially complicated.
- Apart from that, the letter G may be pronounced in 2 different ways. And very few Spanish learners know how to do it the correct way.
Hace unos años se escapó mi tortuga y nunca volvió.
Las tortugas marinas viven más de cien años.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word raro?
- Obviously, the rolled R is one of the most difficult sounds for English natives.
- The letter A is harder to pronounce when it’s between R’s.
- [o]: Probably you pronounce it as a diphthong. It’s a common mistake when pronouncing this vowel.
Eres más raro que un perro verde.
Me parece muy raro que todavía no te haya llamado.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word carrera?
- The combination of rolled and soft R is especially hard to say.
- Some students produce an aspirated [k] and add the sound [i] after E (kha.Rei.ra).
- English natives tend not to pronounce clearly the first A.
A Pablo le queda un año para terminar la carrera.
Te echo una carrera; a ver quién llega antes a la piscina.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word roedor?
- In English, there isn’t any word that contains the sound [oe].
- The last syllable (dor) is a bit complex for 2 reasons:
- The letter R at the end of the word tends to be pronounced as an English R.
- The letter D may be pronounced in 2 different ways. Most of the Spanish students use the wrong one.
Jerry es un roedor muy simpático.
El hámster es mi roedor favorito.
(The word extraterrestre is more difficult to say but it wasn’t selected among the most difficult words with R).
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word terrestre?
- The word has too many E’s. For English natives, it doesn’t come naturally to pronounce the 3 of them the same way.
- On the other hand, the last syllable (tre) is hard to say for 3 reasons:
- English natives tend to pronounce the Spanish T as an English T. But the sound is different. It’s articulated in a different place of your mouth.
- The Spanish T is especially difficult to pronounce correctly before the letter R.
- Not a single word in English ends with [e] sound. The most similar is [ei], as in they, so you probably say [te.Res.trei]
Dicen que hay vida extraterrestre.
Anfibio significa “doble vida”, porque tienen vida acuática y vida terrestre.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word alrededor?
It’s quite hard to roll an R after L (alrededor) because your tongue has to move fast from one place to another one.
As in the word roedor, it’s difficult to say the last syllable (dor) without an English accent.
La primera vuelta alrededor de la Tierra se hizo en 80 días.
Yo calculo que vendrán alrededor de 15 personas.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word ordenador?
Your tongue has to move fast to say this word too. From the palate, to produce the sound [r] toward your teeth to say the letter D (ordenador).
Again, the last syllable of the word is “dor“.
Puedes usar mi ordenador, si quieres.
Ahora, en casi todas las casas hay un ordenador.
The word refrigerador is quite common in Latin America, but they shorten it to refri. Easier, isn’t it? So in Spain, we have an even easier word: nevera. (Almost) nobody uses refri or refrigerador.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word refrigerador?
Once more, appears the syllable “dor“.
Tenemos que llamar al técnico para que nos arregle el refrigerador (nevera).
Tengo 37 imanes en el refrigerador.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word torero?
Apart from the difficulty to pronounce the letters T and R, English natives tend to say, at least, one of the vowels as a diphthong (torerou).
Chayanne – Torero (lyrics)
Si hay que ser torero, poner el alma en el ruedo, no importa lo que se venga pa que sepas que te quiero como un buen torero.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word rural?
This word exists in English so it happens the same as with the word tortuga: Our muscles have a memory so, while your mind tries to say rural with the Spanish pronunciation, your mouth muscles try to pronounce it in English.
¿Nos vamos a una casa rural este finde?
Nací en un entorno rural, rodeada de cabras y gallinas…
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word ronronear?
Rolling 2 Rs in the same word is a nightmare for many Spanish learners. Moreover, the sound [ea] doesn’t exist in English, so this adds difficulty to the word.
Mi gato no suele ronronear.
Dicen que el ronroneo de los gatos tiene efectos auto terapéuticos.
It means climbing plant.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word enredadera?
It’s not a surprise that having 2 Rs in the same word makes it difficult to pronounce this word.
But there is another thing: the letter D.
There are 2 Ds, and they are very close to each other. Moreover, the 2 of them sound the same way but different from the English D. And differently from the D sound that most Spanish learners produce.
La vainilla es una planta enredadera.
Las enredaderas suben por todo el muro.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word sonrojado?
The combination of letters in this word is not so hard. So, if you manage to pronounce the sounds [R], [X] and [ð], you won’t have trouble saying it correctly. The only thing that may be more challenging, if you are used to doing it, is to avoid adding [u] at the end of the word (son.Ro.’Xa.ðou).
Está sonrojada porque le ha hablado el chico que le gusta.
Víctor hace sonrojar a cualquiera.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word prorrogar?
- The first syllable (pro) is already hard to pronounce because of the [p] and [r] sounds.
- Additionally, this word is a bit like a tongue twister, even for Spanish natives. Saying it fast is quite hard because it comes to a point where the 2 Rs are pronounced the same way, as a soft R.
- The letter G is not pronounced as in English.
Van a prorrogar el partido porque se acerca un huracán.
El proyecto se ha prorrogado hasta el año que viene.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word ferrocarril?
Not much to explain here. The complicated part of this word is rolling the Rs. And the last syllable (rril), since your mouth muscles try to say words like reel or rail so the sounds [i] and [l] are different.
El ferrocarril es un medio de transporte sostenible.
(In Spain, we rarely use this word. We rather say tren).
¡Corre, que vas a perder el tren!
You’re not going to hear this word every day. I like the way it sounds though. It means scruffy-looking.
Why is it difficult to pronounce the word zarrapastroso?
It’s a long word and it has many different sounds.
Apart from the rolled R, the toughest syllable is “tro”. Most of the English natives never pronounce the Spanish T correctly, and it’s even more difficult to say it when it comes before an R.
Yo no compraría un coche tan zarrapastroso. Se te va a romper en 2 días.
Ayer conocí a un español muy majo pero tenía un aspecto un poco zarrapastroso.
There is another word that seems to be pretty popular among English natives: otorrinolaringólogo.
I agree that it’s complicated but natives (almost) always shorten the word. Even otorrinolaringólogos call themselves otorrino. My aunt is an otorrino and I have never heard her saying the full word.
Other way of practicing your Rs
If you aren’t familiarized with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols used in this post you can read this and you will get to know how to say any Spanish word.