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howTo(learn_italian), Language

howTo(learn_Italian): Month 3

December 2, 2012

The year is coming to a close, and my Italian lessons aren’t going anywhere.  Lesson 4 of my Living Language book has presented me with an obstacle that I simply don’t have the energy to overcome.

As you may be aware, my native tongue is English which doesn’t use trilled Rs or flipped Rs.  My second language is French, which uses a rolling R in the back of the throat, but my ability to make such a sound hasn’t been helping me say “Arrivederci” like a native Italian.  Every time I try to roll my Rs, it comes out as an L sound, an unattractive gargle, or a failed whistle (just air without any tongue vibration).  To make matters worse, all three of my family members can roll their Rs to their heart’s content.

“RRRRRrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrr. What’s so hard about that?”
….”TTTTHHHHH….llllLLLLLllll…..gargle gargle gargle…….Fail.”

Over the past two months, I’ve been substituting all R sounds with either my American or French R.  But this kludge isn’t gonna hack it any longer.  I tried Googling for the solution, but YouTube is where I found real success. Four Tubers were particularly helpful and I’ve included their vids here in order of helpfulness. Enjoy!

So what should we take away from these jewels? Well first, be glad that someone else was willing to video tape themselves looking ridiculous (cue videos 3 & 4). Also, be glad that the fact that opera singers need to learn Italian motivated video numero uno.

But, seriously, here are the key points I got out of their advice:

  • Forget about how you would normally pronounce an R. Throw it out and never go back.
  • Relax your throat, mouth, and tongue. Tilting your head back might help too.
  • Send a constant gust of air over your tongue from the diaphragm.
  • Practice the proper tongue position without vibrations before combining all components.
  • If you can roll your Rs in the back of your throat, try moving that vibration from the back to the front of your tongue.  Don’t stop trying if you can’t do it the first time.
  • Go over the exercises from the first video.
  • Practice, practice, practice, practice.

Somehow, after two months of trying to roll my Rs with no success, a few hours watching these videos got me rolling my Rs for several seconds at a time. What, what! Nothing like staring into one’s mouth in the mirror, seeing and hearing a tongue vibration, and watching one’s own childlike joyous reaction.

Practicing feels pretty ridiculous at first, and it takes time, but once you can muster a trilled R you can move towards practicing with words.  I’ve been practicing with Italian words: Arrivederci, grazie, buona sera, essere, buon giorno, la sorella.  Exaggerate the R trill at first to get your tongue in shape.  It is a muscle, after all.  Once you’ve mastered some of your words, try focusing on the hardest ones.  For example, the last two phrases I listed have been really putting up a fight, so I’m going to find more words like them and just try saying them over and over.  I start by rolling an R for a bit then try to say the words, and repeat.  It works some times, so I’m hopeful that with some more practice I’ll be speaking like a native in no time at all.

Repeated failure can be disheartening, but remember that you can do it! It really just is a matter of time and practice.  Keep in mind the advice from the videos above, and…………

In bocca al lupo! Good luck!


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