Meet the “trill-iest” Spanish digraph: RR. La erre doble (or la doble erre) is both the reason for the fantastic “rrrrrrr” sound in Spanish and also one of the biggest sources of non-native speakers’ mispronunciations. Sound complicated? We’re here to help! Plus, you can download a free digraph RR Spanish worksheet designed especially for little learners at the bottom.
History and Pronunciation
The history of the Spanish digraph RR stems from its Latin roots. And, while you may occasionally see it listed as part of the Spanish alphabet, as far as we know, it’s never officially been a Spanish letter. (You can, however, find lots of people who learned it as a Spanish letter, so if you have more historical background, we’d love to hear from you!)
RR’s non-letter status doesn’t change the fact that it has its own name: la erre doble or la doble erre. We’ll talk in-depth about the history of the digraph when we publish a post entirely about the five Spanish digraphs. Until then, let’s dig into the pronunciation of this important Spanish sound.
In English, we refer to the pronunciation of la erre doble or el dígrafo RR (also sometimes called la doble erre) as a “rolled R” or a “trilled R.” To get really specific, it is a voiced alveolar trill. Physically, the speaker makes passive waves with her tongue. You can see a slow-motion video of the physical formation of the sound here, but fair warning: some people might find the linked video a little gross. (If you teach high-school Spanish, this is a video that really gets teenagers’ attention!)
For a less dramatic and potentially less “gross” version, the University of Glasgow captured an amazing MRI of how the sound is formed (below video). This video seems to work better with younger kids because they can’t believe you can take “pictures” of someone’s tissues, tendons, and skeletons! Although, while I can’t say it helps them with their pronunciation much, I can say they rarely forget the digraph after seeing this one!
From the University of Glasgow via YouTube
There are tons of additional videos and tips for forming the digraph RR if you dig online, and we also plan go into it in more depth in the digraphs post. Until then, let’s look at when to pronounce an R as a “hard” or “trilled” R and when to pronounce it as the single R or as la erre. As with most “rules,” there’s always a danger in oversimplication, but the gist, which you can read in Spanish from the Academia Mexicana de la Lengua here and from the Academia Real Española here, is below in English:
- If you see rr, pronounce a “trilled R” or erre doble, as in the Spanish words carro and perro
- If a word begins with an “R,” pronounce a “trilled R” or erre doble, as in the Spanish word rato
- In almost all other cases, pronounce a “single R” or erre, as in the words caro and barato
English and German speakers, in particular, often “over-trill” single Rs when speaking Spanish, but we’ll explain this further in another post.
What’s A Digraph?
All this talk of digraphs, and we haven’t even defined them. Let’s fix that now. A digraph can be either homogeneous or heterogeneous. When a digraph is homogeneous, like RR, how the digraph acts depends upon the language. In English, the double-letter combination tends to retain the original letters’ sounds, meaning that many would argue one of the letters is unnecessary.
In Spanish, when two of the same letters get together as a digraph, they form a sound that is different than the original sounds the letter would make, even if only slightly. RR is the perfect example of this.
There are five Spanish digraphs, listed below (if you see a link, there’s a free worksheet for that digraph, too). You’ll notice that two of the digraphs have the same letters, or are homogeneous, and the other three have different letters and are therefore heterogeneous:
If that’s still as clear as casserole, no worries! I think it’s easier to go through examples than to remember definitions. Here are some digraphs in English.
- ph: This English digraph forms a third sound, or /f/ or “F” sound, as in the words phone and pharmacy but unlike when “P” is alone in pie or “H” is by itself in hug.
- sh: This English digraph forms a third sound, or /ʃ/ sound, as in the words sheep and shrink but unlike when “S” is alone in snake or “H” is by itself in the word help.
- ll: This English and Spanish digraph is homogeneous. It’s pronunciation varies by location and language.
Unfortunately, English does not share the digraph RR.
Worksheet Learning Focus
One of the things we normally address with Spanish digraphs is hypercapitalization or hypercorrection. But, digraph RR is unique because, as far as we know, there are no Spanish words that begin with la erre doble. (If we’ve missed one, we’d love to hear what it is in the comments below or here.) So, lack of a Spanish word that begins with RR makes discussion of capitalization moot.
Therefore, while this worksheet looks similar to all the other Spanish letter and digraph worksheets we have posted thus far, this free Spanish digraph RR worksheet lacks the capitalization focus of the others. Instead, we focus on:
- Identifying digraph RR
- Forming digraph RR
- Familiarization with “rr” vocabulary and a common infinitive
- Introduction to the “names” of the Spanish RR
- había una vez . . .
- la doble erre
- la erre doble
In this free two-page Spanish Digraph RR Worksheet, you’ll find PK-1st grade oriented activities involving «la erre doble», such as practicing formation of its name and being introduced to “RR” vocabulary. Because of the age group targeted, directions are scaffolded in English and Spanish or use English/Spanish cognates.
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Ideas for Use
Students in preschool and kindergarten will likely benefit most from this worksheet, but this free Spanish digraph RR worksheet is great for any student who needs a little extra digraph and Spanish vocabulary practice.