Although a strong Spanish accent is usually easier to understand than a similarly strong French or Portuguese one, the pronunciation can cause considerable strain for the listener and seem somewhat harsh and flat. More importantly, Spanish speakers often have listening comprehension far below their other skills.
School English lessons in most Spanish-speaking countries also tend to focus much more on reading and grammar than speaking and listening, and so pronunciation work will both help redress the balance and be considered worthwhile by students.
This article will focus mainly on pronunciation problems that cause miscomprehension, including some attempt to prioritise the entries in each section. The sections themselves are arranged more traditionally, starting with individual sounds.
Points That Spanish-Speaking Learners Of English Find Difficult
Short and long vowel pairs
Perhaps the single biggest pronunciation problem for Spanish speakers is that their language does not have a distinction between short and long vowels. They often stretch all vowel sounds out too much and confuse pairs of short and long English vowel sounds like “ship” and “sheep” both in comprehension and speaking. Relevant pairs include:
- not/note and not/nought
As the pairs above are all pronounced with different mouth positions as well as different lengths, focusing on that can help students distinguish between the minimal pairs above even if they don’t fully get the hang of vowel length.
In common with most learners, Spanish speakers find the distinction between the very similar sounds in “cat” and “cut” difficult to notice and produce. Perhaps more importantly, they can also have problems with the two closest sounds to an “o” sound in “not” mentioned above, making “boat” and “bought” difficult to distinguish. The unstressed schwa “er” sound in “computer” does not exist in Spanish, and neither do the closest long sounds in “fur” and “her”. Spanish speakers tend to find it much more difficult to recognise not rhotic versions of vowel sounds.
Words written with “b” and “v” are mostly pronounced identically, making this perhaps the most common spelling mistake in Spanish. There is also no distinction between the first sounds in “yacht” and “jot” in Spanish and which of those two sounds is perceived by English speakers tends to depend on the variety of Spanish spoken (this being one of the easiest ways of spotting an Argentinean accent, for example). There may also be some confusion between the first sound in “jeep” and its unvoiced equivalent in “cheap” (a common sound in Spanish).
The “ch” in “cheese” may also be confused with the “sh” in “she’s”, as the latter sound does not exist in Spanish. The difference is similar to that between “yacht” and “jot” mentioned above, being between a smooth sound (sh) and a more explosive one (ch), so the distinction can usefully be taught as a more general point. Alternatively, the “sh” in “sheep” may come out sounding more like “s” in “seep”, in which case it is mouth shape that needs to be worked on.
Spanish words never start with an “s” sound, and words which are similar to English tend to have an initial “es” sound instead, as in escuela/school. This is very common in Spanish speakers’ pronunciation of English as well, leading to pronunciations like “I am from Espain”. Spanish speakers have no problem producing a hissing sound, so the secret is to have them make the word directly after that “ssss” and then practise reducing the length of that down to a short initial “s”.
Unlike most languages, the “th” sounds in “thing” and “bathe” do exist in Spanish. The problem with “bathe” is that the sound is just a variation on mid or final “d” for Spanish speakers and so some work on understanding the distinction between initial “d” and initial “th” is usually needed before it can be understood and produced in an initial position – in fact making the amount of work needed not much less than for speakers of languages entirely without this sound. The problem with “thing” and “sing” is different as it is a distinction that exists in some varieties of Spanish and not others, meaning that again for some speakers practice will need to start basically from zero.
Some speakers also pronounce a final “d” similar to an unvoiced “th”. “d” and “t” can also be a problem at the end of words, as can “thing”/“think” and sometimes “thing”/“thin” or even “ring” and “rim”. In general, Spanish consonant sounds vary more by position than English consonants do.
Although a “w” sound exists in Spanish, it is spelt “gu” and can be pronounced “gw”, sometimes making it difficult to work out if a “g” or “w” is what is meant.
As a “z” is pronounced as “s” or “th” (depending on the speaker, as in the two pronunciations of “Barcelona”), a “z” sound does not exist in Spanish. However, perhaps because not so much air is produced in a Spanish “s” I find that this version rarely produces comprehension problems.
Although a Spanish “r” is different from most English ones, it rarely causes comprehension problems. However, the English “r” can seem so soft to Spanish speakers that it is sometimes perceived as “w”.
The Spanish “j” in José (similar to the Scottish “ch” in “loch”) and the English “h” in “hope” rarely if ever cause communication problems, but is perhaps the main thing to work on if students are interested in accent reduction. An English “h”is like breathing air onto your glasses so you can polish them, and students can actually practise doing that to help.
Spanish doesn’t have the soft, French-sounding sound from the middle of “television” and “pleasure”, but this rarely if ever causes comprehension problems.
Number of syllables
Particularly when it comes to final consonant clusters in English, Spanish-speakers can suffer both from adding extra syllables (e.g. three syllables for “advanced” with the final “e” pronounced) and swallowing sounds to make it match the desired number of syllables (e.g. “fifths” sounding like “fiss”). With words that are similar in Spanish and English, they can also often try to make the English word match the Spanish number of syllables.
Trying to make Latinate words in English match Spanish pronunciation is also true for word stress. There is also a more general problem that Spanish, unlike English, has a pretty regular system of word stress.
Spanish is sometimes described as a “syllable-timed” language, basically meaning that each syllable takes up about the same amount of time. This means that the English idea of unstressed syllables and weak forms being squashed in between stressed syllables doesn’t really exist in Spanish. This can make it difficult for Spanish speakers to pick out and point out the important words in a sentence.
Spanish speakers, especially males, can sound quite flat in English, and this can cause problems in formal situations and other times when polite language is needed (especially as Spanish speakers also have other problems with polite language such as over-use of the verb “give”).
The names and pronunciations of the letters of the alphabet in Spanish can cause confusions between these pairs in both listening and speaking, e.g.
Written by Alex Case for TEFL.NET July 2012
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
I don’t know enough about Mexican Spanish to be sure about all Omar’s points, but there are several points which make me doubt that my points on sh and ch should be changed. For me, the Argentinian pronunciation of ll sounds much more like the j in “jeep” or the middle sound in “television”, which are both voiced sounds and so unlike sh. If it can also be an unvoiced sh sound in Argentinian Spanish, that just makes a different problem with confusing the English sh and other sounds.
I’m not so sure about this one (as it’s 20 years since I lived in Spain, studied Spanish and lived with Cubans and a Mexican), but the way I remember it a Spanish Spanish “shhhh” for “quiet please” often sounded to me like something between an English sh and an English s or ch, meaning that it was not necessarily a distinct, distinguishable sound. I don’t remember any of Omar’s examples of borrowed words being used in Spain, but the “champu” for “shampoo” that Nicola mentioned is very common.
Well, Omar, you made a strong point about the existence and clear distinction of the sounds “ch” and “sh” and mentioned that Mexico has the highest number of Spanish speakers, where this doesn’t occur.
Let me tell you that I know many people that say “champu” or “suchi” from many different latin American countries. Now, I’m not exactly sure why that is, but there is such a thing in Spanish and perhaps they have the same issue in English. If anyone knows why, please let me know,thanks!
Interesting but misleading since this might only apply to Spanish speakers from Spain and not even that. Mexico has 123 982 528 Spanish speakers which makes it number 1 of Spanish speakers in the world, then the USA with 57 398 719, Spain has only 46 659 302. Spanish language should include all the countries in which it is spoken and all its varieties. With that being said, I do not agree with the following:
The “ch” in “cheese” may also be confused with the “sh” in “she’s”, as the latter sound does not exist in Spanish.
In Spanish, THERE IS A CLEAR DISTINCTION BETWEEN THESE TWO SOUNDS in words such as chango, chancla, mochila for /ch/, for the /sh/ sound, it is always used when you want to ask for silence by saying ¡shh! or foreign words that everyone knows like flash de la cámara, el show del circo, short (pantalones cortos) Just listen to people from Argentina and their lignuistic phenomena of /sh/ sounds called yeísmo rehilado. It is super common for them to use the /sh/ sound for words such as yo, ello, vainilla, and pretty much all y´s or LL´s.
Thank you very much !
Excellent article. Is there a book on this?
Alex, I’m from Cuba and the borrowed words having sound /w/ are pronounced with /g/.
Thanks for your analysis, it will be of Paramount importance to provide corrective techniques to correct such errors. I’m working on it right now.
In fact, this article would only help Spanish speakers of English with listening comprehension problems if it included video/audio examples.
Still, it might be useful for some native speakers of English teaching in Spain. Thanks for the summary, though
Hello, I wanted to know if by any chance you have the references or bibliography from which ou retrieved the information, thanks in advance.
My list of minimal pairs for Spanish speakers now up here:
https://tefltastic.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/minimal-pairs-for-spanish/ (linking to the most relevant of my minimal pair lists on TEFL.net’s sister site)
Thanks Arnold, that’s a good point which I would definitely add if there was an edit function…
I’m not sure that I agree with Janet’s point that a Spanish “w” in borrowed words sounds just like an English “w”. In fact, when I lived in Spain in the weekly comic El Jueves cartoonists often deliberately misspelled such words with “gu” in words like “gueekend”. It’s true that a U sometimes just makes a hard “G” as in “guerilla”, but that isn’t really related to my point about the /w/ sound.
Thank you for this article.
Just to let you know people who are resident/native to Liverpool are known as Liverpudlians. There is a more common term for them, but this is both the polite and correct option (the other is less polite and more common among the locals, so it’s not advised that you use the other term unless you are also from Liverpool).
Very helpful, thanks!
the information here is very helpful.
IJust as a recmmendation it would be even moe usuefl to know the sources of your concepts so that we have research more deeply
Please do not confuse more to Spanish speaking people. To the end, what matters most in dealing with people is effective communication. Pronunciation depends on numerous variables. When I was a student in a TESOL masters´ program, I was freed from this pronunciation issue, when I saw two native American classmates arguing over what the right pronunciation of picture is. The one stated that ¨picture¨ is pronounced as ¨pitcher¨ and the other one disagreed utterly. Two native Americans were arguing over the pronunciation of a simple word. Picture yourself.
Let´s go beyond these artificialities and communicate one another without pointing on mispronouncing issues. Americans, African Americans, Italian-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Argentineans, Cubans, Irish, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Londoners, Liverpoolers (?), Hispanics, Chinese, Japanese and so on do not have the best pronunciation because every brain is different. We must do all the best to communicate with each other peacefully and gracefully. That matters to me! The long e, the short e, the schwa, the alveolar r, the th sound, v vs. b, sh vs. ch sounds is simply a distraction that affects communication.
How did this person manage to be a speaker in a tedtalk? I assume the TedTalk team and Jon Jandai did not worry much about pronunciation. They simply focused on communicating ideas, opinions, and wisdom to other people.
You state: “Spanish words never start with an “s” sound, and words which are similar to English tend to have an initial “es” sound instead, as in escuela/school.”
This is not totally accurate. There are many Spanish words that start with S, such as sombrero, solo, salir, etc. I think what you meant to say is that there are no Spanish words that start with S followed by a consonant, such as school, sport, smart, stop. These tend to be pronounced by hispanoparlantes as eschool, esport, esmart, estop.
Interesting article, but as a native Spanish speaker I disagree with some points. For example:
“Although a “w” sound exists in Spanish, it is spelt “gu” and can be pronounced “gw”, sometimes making it difficult to work out if a “g” or “w” is what is meant.”
The w sound doesn’t exist really in Spanish, the letter exists in the alphabet but all words are not really Spanish, and it is pronounced just the same as in English.
The sound of the letter ‘g’ is the same as in English in the word ‘gun’ when before a and o. And the same as an English ‘h’ before e and i. The ‘u’ after ‘g’ is muted if it’s followed by e or i, and sounds like g in ‘gun’.
This website is very helpful. Could you please provide some examples the pairs of letters that cause confusion for Spanish speakers learning to speak English? (under the heading “Alphabet.”) Thank you!
Perhaps the single biggest pronunciation problem for Spanish speakers is that their language does not have a distinction between short and long vowels. They often stretch all vowel sounds out too much and confuse pairs of short and long English vowel sounds like “ship” and “sheep” both in comprehension and speaking.How can I improve my English pronunciation for Spanish speakers? ›
Practice slowing down your English. You will notice things improve – I promise! When Spanish speakers speak English very fast their English often becomes very flat in pitch and rhythm. By this I mean that they don't use the correct stress (emphasis) on the right syllables in words and sentences.What do Spanish students struggle with in English? ›
Those who speak Spanish have trouble with English spelling, coming as they do from a more phonetic system. The different ways to spell the same sound in English can cause problems, as in words like “tough” and “fluff.” The large number of vowel sounds and diphthongs are also troublesome.How do you solve pronunciation difficulties? ›
- 1 - Listen! Listening to examples of authentic speech is the most obvious way to improve your own pronunciation. ...
- Record yourself. ...
- Get to know the phonemic chart. ...
- Use a dictionary. ...
- Do some exercise! ...
- Get to know your minimal pairs.
- Use the IPA phonetic alphabet. ...
- Read lips, listen and imitate. ...
- Check tongue position. ...
- Notice the syllable stress. ...
- Listen and repeat. ...
- Research typical errors.
As a general recommendation, tell students to listen to as much as they can in English, whether it is movies, TV shows or songs. Ask them to try to identify the different phonemes in different words they hear. Give them the right tools and they will make great strides towards improving their pronunciation!How do I fix my Spanish pronunciation? ›
- #1 Read and talk. The first rule to learn to read in Spanish with the correct pronunciation is to read aloud. ...
- #2 Accent and intonation. ...
- #3 Pay attention to the position of your tongue. ...
- #4 Talk to a native speaker. ...
- Vowels. ...
- Diphthongs. ...
- StudySpanish.com. ...
Your accent will naturally start to improve, as Bogotá-based Spanish teacher Naty Cruz, notes, if you: “interact with native speakers, get out into the street and listen to how people talk, create a chat group or find a group of local friends so you can listen to them all the time, and familiarise yourself with the ...How pronunciation can be improved? ›
Sing a song! Learn the words to popular English songs and sing along. Singing helps you relax and just get those words out, as well as helping your rhythm and intonation. Because you don't need to concentrate on constructing sentences for yourself, you can concentrate on making your pronunciation sound great!Why is it difficult for Spanish speakers to learn English? ›
Even if you speak English with flawless grammar and precise vocabulary, inaccurate pronunciation might still prevent others from understanding you. This is especially difficult for Spanish speakers because Spanish is a phonetic language.
Lack of confidence, poor vocabulary power, hesitation, anxiety towards speaking, fear of making mistakes, not having a suitable environment to practice English, no strong motivation from teachers were some common difficulties students faced while speaking in English.What are some of the main problems that students often encounter with learning English? ›
- Poor English Vocabulary. ...
- Confusing Spelling. ...
- No Interaction, or Lack Thereof, With Native Speakers. ...
- Difficult Grammar. ...
- Feeling Embarrassed. ...
- Confusion Colloquialisms and Slang. ...
A combining vowel is used between a word root and a suffix that begins with a consonant (not a vowel). This is to make pronunciation easier.What are the common pronunciation errors? ›
- A - car, bake, ball, ago, act, wary.
- E - egg, economy, barber.
- I - igloo, ice, idiom.
- O - ox, oval, for, one.
Usually, a nerve or brain disorder has made it difficult to control the tongue, lips, larynx, or vocal cords, which make speech. Dysarthria, which is difficulty pronouncing words, is sometimes confused with aphasia, which is difficulty producing language.How can you improve the poor pronunciation or limited proficiency in speaking among students? ›
- Encourage Conversation: ...
- Model Syntactic Structure: ...
- Maintain Eye Contact: ...
- Remind Students to Speak Loudly: ...
- Explain the Subtleties of Tone: ...
- Attend to Listening Skills: ...
- Incorporate a “Question of the Day.”
There are endless resources; thankfully, that can help you improve your student's ability to pronounce different words and create sounds. Other techniques to reinforce pronunciation are drilling games, listen and repeat, isolating sounds, and word games.How do you improve ESL students pronunciation? ›
Bringing in listening activities that are short, doing presentations imitating a certain speaking style, having students speak trying to convey a certain emotion, or watching short video clips for students to reenact can be super fun ways to have students practice imitation and improve their pronunciation.What method techniques are used for teaching pronunciation in English? ›
It is stated that there are three significant approaches to teach pronunciation namely analytic-linguistic approach, intuitive-imitative approach and integrative approach. The mentioned approaches are associated with different methods of language teaching.What are the basic pronunciation rules in Spanish? ›
Basic Rules of Accentuation
Words ending in a vowel, or n or s, the next to last syllable is stressed. For words ending in a consonant other than n or s stress falls on the last syllable. If the word has an accent mark, then that syllable is stressed, ignoring the rules above.
ELSA Speak: English Accent Coach (Android/iOS)
Well, there's an app that lets you do just that. Focused on American English, ELSA Speak comes with speech recognition technology that'll help you correctly pronounce common English words and phrases.
- Teach pronunciation through songs.
- Practice onomatopoeia's (onomatopeya)
- Practice the vowel sounds by focusing on mouth and tongue movement.
- Using Spanish worksheets to practice.
- Practice with Spanish tongue twisters.
Word Stress Patterns - Help students improve their pronunciation by focusing on short sentences using standard word stress patterns. Introduce Stress and Intonation - One of the best ways to help students is to focus their attention on the music of English through the use of stress and intonation.How long does it take to improve pronunciation? ›
So how long does it take to change an accent and improve English Pronunciation? With accent reduction training most people see improvement within 2 – 4 weeks. People usually achieve noticeable change in their accent, clarity and English speaking confidence within 3 months.What are the pronunciation skills? ›
Pronunciation includes features of language (vocabulary and grammar) and skills (speaking and listening). Like vocabulary and grammar, we pronounce by noticing and understanding rules and patterns which lie beneath the surface of speech.Which language is most difficult for English speakers? ›
- Mandarin Chinese. Interestingly, the hardest language to learn is also the most widely spoken native language in the world. ...
- Arabic. ...
- Polish. ...
- Russian. ...
- Turkish. ...
It is a Romance language that is closely associated with Portuguese and Italian. The huge differences in the two languages make Spanish-English translation a challenging job so that a translator has to be extremely careful while converting a document from Spanish to English or vice versa.Is Spanish the easiest language to learn for English speakers? ›
Easiest (about 600 hours of study)
Of these, Spanish and Italian are the easiest for native English speakers to learn, followed by Portuguese and finally French.
The main factor that affects students' speaking skills is the affective factor such as the shyness to speak the English language and the fear of committing mistakes while their speaking performance.What are the two major difficulties encountered by the foreign learners of English? ›
They don't study pronunciation, they don't study essay writing, and they don't make an effort to learn new words. They bring every little problem to the teacher during classes, even things they could just look up in the dictionary.
- Spelling. Many words that are otherwise unrelated and are spelled differently sound the same when spoken (for instance, "pair" vs "pear"). ...
- Pronunciation. ...
- Idioms and slang. ...
- Variations of the language.
- Grammar. English Grammar is complex, making it difficult to remember, master and use logically. ...
- Vocabulary. ...
- Slang and colloquialism. ...
- Pronunciation. ...
- Variations in English. ...
A common problem for students of English is listening comprehension. There are a few reasons for this. Depending on where a student learned English, they may not have been exposed to native speakers. If they learned English in their native country their teacher likely spoke English with a foreign accent.How do I fix poor pronunciation? ›
- Learn to listen.
- Learn with the Best English Pronunciation Dictionaries Online.
- Google Translate. ...
- Notice how your mouth and lips move.
- Pay attention to your tongue.
- Break words down into sounds.
- Add stress to sounds and words.
|Which element is commonly used for ease of pronunciation||Combining vowel|
|Which vowel is most commonly attached to a world root to create a CF?||O|
|In the word thermometer, meter is a||Suffix|
|Word endings are called||Suffixes|
Students' pronunciation errors are also classified into three types. Those are interference errors, intralingual errors, and developmental errors.What are the 3 problematic sounds in English? ›
- 1 – The “TH” sound. This is one of the trickiest sounds and to add insult to injury, there are two distinct ways to pronounce it! ...
- 2 – the “W” and “V” sounds. ...
- 3 – the “b” and “v” sounds. ...
- 4 – The “ed” sound. ...
- 5 – The “l” and “r” sounds. ...
- 2 comments.
9. Stressing the wrong syllable. This is one of the most impactful pronunciation mistakes. If you stress the wrong syllable, the other person might not get which word you're trying to say right away!Why do English speakers struggle with Spanish? ›
Learning Spanish is difficult when the alphabet reaches the j and the r. As well as being sounds that don't have in their own language, they are also very strong phonemes and are complicated to pronounce. This is an issue that all English speakers struggle with.What are the common errors in pronunciation? ›
The same letters are pronounced differently depending on the word. Here are some classic examples: gum and gem, core and cite, salt and sugar, whole and where, hot and hour, thick and there. In each of these words, the respective vowel has a distinctly different sound.
They include: native language, age, exposure, innate phonetic ability, identity and language ego, and motivation and concern for good pronunciation. Native language: It is crystally clear that the major influential factor impacting learners' pronunciation is the essential role of the native language.Why is it difficult to learn pronunciation? ›
English is not a phonetic language. Often, a letter does not correspond to only one sound. As a result, it's extremely challenging to learn the pronunciation of a word simply from its spelling.What are the 3 types of sounds in English pronunciation? ›
Three categories of sounds must be recognised at the outset: phones (human sounds), phonemes (units which distinguish meaning in a language), allophones (non-distinctive units). Sounds can be divided into consonants and vowels.What factors can affect pronunciation accuracy? ›
- Motivation & Attitude.
- Age & Exposure.
- Native language.
- Natural ability.
- Using Good Pronunciation Helps Others Understand You More Quickly.
- Having Good Pronunciation Makes Learning English as a Second Language Easier.
- Good Pronunciation Can Help Improve Your Social Skills.
Lack of confidence, poor vocabulary power, hesitation, anxiety towards speaking, fear of making mistakes, not having a suitable environment to practice English, no strong motivation from teachers were some common difficulties students faced while speaking in English.How hard is it for Spanish speakers to learn English? ›
So it's generally harder for a Spanish speaker to pronounce English well. It means learning entirely new sounds. While the English speaker will need to learn “rr” and nuances like “b” and “v,” Spanish speakers have a longer list. “Th” and new vowels sounds are particularly difficult.Why do Spanish people not pronounce s? ›
Because their accents cut the s short to speak faster and actually sound more fluent or express National or Regional identity. Because they were raised or trained, like me, to change those Ss into hses, pronounce them slightly, or not pronounce them at all.What are the 10 most annoying mispronounced words? ›
- Pacifically instead of specifically – 35%
- Probly instead of probably – 28%
- Expresso instead of espresso – 26%
- Specially instead of especially – 25%
- Artick instead of arctic – 19%
- Nu-cu-lar instead of nuclear – 19%
- Tenderhooks instead of tenterhooks – 18%
- Anyway. EH-nee-way. Why is this easy word here? ...
- Tenet. TEN-eht. ...
- Comptroller. con-TROLL-er. ...
- Coup de grâce. koo-de-GRAHS. ...
- Electoral. ee-LECK-tor-al. ...
- Hyperbole. high-PER-boh-lee. ...
- Mischievous. MIS-chuh-vus. ...
- Ophthalmologist. off-tha(l)-MOLL-o-gist.