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Should I Roll My Rs In German? Posted by on Feb 21, 2018 in Language, listening

Guten Tag! Today’s post is all about a question many German language learners encounter at one point or another, and that is: Should I roll my Rs when I speak German? And if I am supposed to, how do I physically do it?

The rolled R is a stand-out feature of the German language for many people. They often think they have to exaggerate the R sound and make it as audible as possible, which is why they are worried about pronouncing it. However, this is not the case! The ‘intensity’ of the rolled R varies from region to region in Germany, so you will often NOT hear or notice native German speakers rolling their Rs. Sometimes, on the other hand, it is all you will hear! So if you’re worried you won’t sound authentic unless you roll every single one of your Rs very audibly – don’t be!

R Graffiti

‘R Graffiti’ Photo: carbonnyc on flickr.com under a CC license (CC BY 2.0)

There are different ‘types’ of German Rs, created in different places in the mouth and throat. For example, it is said that the sound is created more towards the back of the throat in northern Germany, and further forward in the mouth in southern Germany. If you are new to the rolled R then I wouldn’t worry about that (it’s just an interesting fact!). I like to keep things simple by saying: to make the sound of the rolled R, imagine you are gargling with water. But instead of keeping the noise going – like you would when gargling – you only do it for a split second. Now you can practice it with a German word: Try saying die Regel (the rule) with a rolled R on the word Regel. If you don’t have this sound in your native language then it might take some practice, and that’s OK!

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Here are some sound clips to help you hear the rolled R in different positions within a word.

At the beginning of a word

Here is what the word die Regel (the rule) sounds like with, and then without, the rolled R.

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In the middle of a word

Here is what the word das Brot (bread) sounds like with, and then without, the rolled R.

 

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At the end of a word

When the R is at the end of the word, it is not rolled. Here is a clip of the word die Butter (butter), without the rolled R and then with (not only does it sound odd to roll the R at the end of the word Butter, but it feels odd, too).

 

The exception to this is if the word ends in a double R, such as the word das Geschirr (cutlery) or dürr (thin). Here is a clip of the two words, once with the rolled R, and once without.

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I hope you can hear that there is not an awful lot of difference between the words with rolled Rs and without. In other words, you will still ‘sound’ German if you find you can’t roll your Rs. 🙂

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Now for some fun! Sometimes, the Rolled R is exaggerated for dramatic effect, such as in songs. Till Lindemann (of the band Rammstein) is famous for exaggerating the Rolled Rs in his music. He often elongates the ‘trill’ of the Rolled R– in real speech, this is only a very short sound. Listen to the first 30 seconds or so of Spieluhr to hear these elongated Rs. For example: Instead of saying Herz he says Herrrrz and instead of Spieluhr he says Spieluhrrrr!

So do not stress yourself about the rolled R – if anything, have fun with it! 🙂

Bis bald

Constanze

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About the Author:Constanze

Servus! I'm Constanze. I'm half English and half German. I write here because I'm passionate about my languages and my roots. I also work as a translator & group fitness instructor.


Comments:

  1. Josephine Kischer:

    Enjoying your e-mails. Just one comment, it is “die” Regel, not der Regel (rule).
    Josephine

    • Constanze:

      @Josephine Kischer Ohhh I am such an idiot for missing that! Thank you, Josephine! I’ve updated the post! Glad you’re enjoying them. 🙂