Everybody is familiar with the technique of trilling an R with the tongue; this sound is difficult to produce if your native language does not use it. This sound is prominent in Spanish and Italian; anybody who has ever taken a class in either knows that the sound alone can take months or years of practice to get down, not to mention fully integrating it into one's speech.
A German /r/ is usually rolled as well. However, in most dialects of German, especially that which is spoken in cities, the "R" is actually produced in the back of the throat, rather than with the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge. German is notoriously gutteral; this is no exception. This might sound fascinatingly difficult at first, but is actually very easy; much easier, in fact, than the Spanish /r/.
First, some comparitive examples. Make an "ffff" sound. Now change it to a "vvvvv" sound. What do you notice? Try it again, but this time start out with an "ssss" sound, and change it to a "zzzz" sound. Do you notice the pattern?
The only thing that is changed is whether or not the sound is voiced; that is, whether or not the vocal cords are vibrating. This is the key to learning the roll sound heard in German and French, known to linguistics as the voiced uvular fricative.
Now, make the German "ach" sound, holding the 'ch'. Make sure that you're pronouncing the sound far back enough in the mouth; it should be a very turbulent, almost gurgling sound. Now voice this sound.
Work on this a little, refine your technique, and you'll have the sound down in no time at all. If you practice it enough, integrating it into speech is pretty simple. Just remember a few things:
- Do not roll an R if it's the last letter in a word, such as der, er, or wer.
- You have the basic sound down, but when applied to speech, the sound is rather low profile, and held shortly.
- Only roll the R very briefly, in transition to the next syllable.
- Do not roll too harshly; keep it subtle and gentle.