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Mastery of a clear English accent for a native Spanish speaker, can at times, be difficult. Spanish native speakers will need to adjust many aspects of their speech patterns to sound truly English.

The Spanish language is very distinct from English in its origins. In fact, it most closely relates to Portuguese and Italian.

Technically Spanish is classified as a Romance language. Its roots trace back to Vulgar Latin that was transported to the Spanish Peninsula by Romans. Vulgar latin was the speech of the middle class Roman citizens from which sprung Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian.

On the other hand, English a West Germanic language, is closer to Dutch, German and Frisian (a dialect still spoken to this day near German and Netherland regions that lie beside the North Sea).

Both languages have different hereditary. As a result, English and Spanish differ in several main features. Firstly, English contains more vowels than Spanish. Secondly, English has several consonant sounds that are not present in Spanish. Thirdly, English uses a different speech rhythm from Spanish and finally both languages have different grammatical structures, especially observable with how verbs are managed when are built and building sentences.

Follow these top Spanish accent reduction tips to improve your English pronunciation. 

How to reduce your Spanish Accent

English versus Spanish Vowels

Spanish has a total of 5 vowels. English, in comparison has up to 21 vowels, depending on the target English accent. It is important to note that for a Spanish native speakers there may be some vowel discrepancies. Many Spanish native speakers substitute a Spanish vowel for a true English vowel. Generally, the vowels of Spanish are shorter than those required for English. As a result “bait” can resemble “bat” and “seat” will sound like “sit”.

Use of incorrect vowels can also disrupt the speech rhythm needed for English. Listen carefully to the vowels of native speakers. Record yourself reading short paragraphs from newspaper articles. Stay true to the English vowel lengths. Listen for the vowels that need to be longer and try to stretch out your vowels and lengthen them where you need to.

English Consonants

English and Spanish practically share the same alphabet. There are only a few different alphabet letters in Spanish that are not contained in English.  But don’t be fooled. Although the alphabets look very similar, the sounds are not. Many of the consonants of English are produced very differently from the Spanish correlates. This is why it is not uncommon for a native English speaker to hear a “v” instead of the “b” a Spanish speaker may aim for. Don’t say “van” for “ban”. Similar confusion can occur with “t” and “d”, so “sat” can sound like “sad” and so forth.

 Difficult English Consonants

Many Spanish native speakers struggle to perfect the hardest consonants of English. This impacts markedly on intelligibility, clarity and speaker confidence. Some Spanish dialects share the English language’s hardest sounds. For example, continental Spanish uses the English “th” (found in words like thing and think), namely on words such as hacienda or Barcelona.

These following 2 sounds are just a few of the sounds you will need to address to ensure clear English. Speak with us at Voice Science for more information on the other key sounds needed according to a comprehensive assessment tailored to address your current accent. 

1) TH /ð/

This sound is one of two options for the letters “th”. This sound is different from any sound of Spanish.

You can find this sound at the beginning and middle of English words, and rarely at the end of words. It is present in words like them, feather, gather, mother, the and breathe. Be sure to create this as a distinct sound from any other sound.

Try these words:

then

either

breathe

leather

mother

2) Z /z/

This sound is not to be mistaken with a Spanish “s”. Be very careful with this sound as it is not present in Spanish. This is one of the most common consonant sounds of English and it is very important that it is never mistaken for a “s” sound. It always occurs where a “z” appears and can also occur on the letter “s” in words like has, his, mum’s, phase. Take care also that it does not resemble a “th” sound.

Try these words:

zipper

amazes

haze

mums

analyse

 Speech Intonation

What is intonation? In a nutshell, this refers to the music of your speech. Every accent and dialect follows parameters of rhythm, tone and pitch that match expression. When we learn a new language, we are all inclined to apply the intonation of our mother tongue to our target language. This can add charm but can result in listeners struggling to understand you, or even, at worst, becoming distracted by your accent instead of absorbing the content of what you are saying. Try to slow down and link your words together instead of rushing to sound more fluent. If you speak at a slower rate, listeners will understand you better and you may also feel more calm and confident while speaking. Use pauses to collect your thoughts and don’t be afraid to take more time when you need it.

Clean up your English Contractions

Always, always, ALWAYS pronounce your “‘nt” at the end of words. Many native Spanish speakers delete the important ending in words such as don’t, won’t, wouldn’t, isn’t and instead say don, won , wouldon and isn. This can cause a lot of listener confusion since these verbs are so commonly used. 

Accent reduction takes time and practice. It is not uncommon to still have an accent even after years of expatriate life. An accent can be an asset that sets you ahead. Listeners soon realise you are multi-lingual. Sometimes an accent can interfere with your message. Speech breakdowns can occur and it can be harder to express thoughts clearly to your listener. Don’t give up! Work on your pronunciation weaknesses strategically and practice daily to improve your English.

See more info on Accent Reduction and English Pronunciation Training on here. 

Accent reduction takes time and practice. It is not uncommon to still have an accent even after years of expatriate life. An accent can be an asset that sets you ahead. Listeners soon realise you are multi-lingual. Sometimes an accent can interfere with your message. Speech breakdowns can occur and it can be harder to express thoughts clearly to your listener. Don’t give up! Work on your pronunciation weaknesses strategically and practice daily to improve your English.

Many non-native speakers opt to consult with a Speech Pathologist to reduce the impact of a foreign accent. 

Voice Science treats from Melbourne to Bogota, Madrid, London, Barcelona … wherever you are via our global service. We offers face to face and online accent reduction from her Collins St clinic.

Diagnostric Accent Assessment Melbourne

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See more accent reduction tips for non-native speakers here

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©Voice Science, 2014 – 2019

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