Welcome back to our journey into the depths of English pronunciation for Spanish speakers. If you are joining us before reading part 1, be sure to check it out here so you don’t miss any of the life-changing pronunciation hacks we shared!
As you’ll remember, part 1 covered the hidden English pronunciation strengths of native Spanish speakers. Fasten your seatbelts, today we’re taking things up a notch to talk about some elite-level strategies for Spanish speakers wanting to take that next step in their English Pronunciation.
Let’s dive right in!
How opposites attract in English Pronunciation for Spanish speakers
Have you ever noticed that when a non-native speaker is talking in Spanish, their accent usually gives us clues about where they are from or what their native language is? Think of stereotypes of, say, French people speaking Spanish. Can you hear an example in your head or even imitate what this would sound like? If you can, this reveals that you already have some idea of its sound patterns, whether you speak French or not! Et voilà!
Now let’s see how this is useful in English pronunciation for Spanish speakers. With the empathy we should always show towards people learning another language, let’s think of all the pronunciation difficulties that we hear English native speakers regularly experience when pronouncing Spanish words. These difficulties reveal which Spanish sounds don’t occur in English, and also show us the substitute sounds we need to use instead.
Spanish “r” versus English “r”
The trilled /r/ (like in the Spanish perro) can be heard in a few English accents like Scottish, but otherwise, most native speakers don’t produce it when speaking English. You’ll notice many English speakers will have difficulty pronouncing the trilled /r/ in Spanish. Therefore, dedicate time and practice to learning English /ɹ/ without a trill, and don’t let your trill sneak into your English!
Spanish has 5 beautifully defined vowel sounds that maintain their form in all syllables, strong or weak. This isn’t the case in English, and often adds difficulty to English pronunciation for Spanish speakers. The most well-defined vowels can only occur in stressed syllables, and our good friend the schwa /ə/ (explained below) is only ever unstressed, what a life!
Imagine an English speaker pronouncing the word presentación. Early in their Spanish-learning journey, we’re sure it wouldn’t surprise you if the second /e/, presentación, was lost to, well, a very relaxed non-Spanish vowel sound. That’s the schwa! A strong vowel like /e/ isn’t allowed in that unstressed syllable position in English. Use this as a reminder to pay attention to how differently English vowels behave based on syllable stress, and always let the schwa relax as it was born to do!
Vowels at the end of English words
Have you ever noticed that English speakers often pronounce words like taco as something closer to tacou and dónde more like dóndei? This process is packed full of information for anyone learning English! Those short vowel sounds like /o/ and /e/ will never be found at the end of English words even if it looks like that in the spelling! So, go observe it yourself!
Continuing with the food examples (because they’re the best!), think of how English speakers pronounce a word like tapa, usually with a small puff of air after the /t/ and /p/ (transcribed phonetically as [th] and [ph]). Or even paquete, in which an English speaker would produce [ph], [kh] and [th]! These sounds are all aspirated in English, most strongly at the beginning of stressed syllables. It’s thime tho phut yourself tho the thest!
Linking sounds between vowels
One more food example, we can’t resist! How many times have you heard a native English speaker pronounce paella as something more like payella /pajeɪja/? Vowel combinations like /ae/ are difficult when English is your first language, because we usually add a linking sound to make the vowel boundary easier to produce at speed. For example, in English ‘if I ever’ as a string will sound like ‘if I-yever’ /ɪfaɪjɛvə/. Add this linking tool to step up to elite-level English pronunciation!
Redefining sounds and letters in English Pronunciation for Spanish Speakers
No more phonetic spelling
One of the most appealing novelties for English speakers beginning to learn Spanish is the pure delight of phonetic spelling. But unfortunately, it pains us to say that the reverse, when Spanish speakers begin decoding English spelling, is much more of an ordeal. For this reason, we highly recommend that you pay strong attention to sounds when learning new words, not just written letters, exactly as we did as children learning our first language.
Fusing phonemes in English pronunciation for Spanish speakers
Another process that we recommend you are aware of is the one where some Spanish phonemes will need to combine or split in English. Don’t worry, we’ll guide you through this one!
The smallest unit of sound which is significant in a language.
/b/ and /v/ can be considered the same phoneme in Spanish because they are produced the same.
For all of our phonetics lovers out there (you know who you are) and those who soon will be, let’s take a moment to talk about the technical difference between phonetics and phonology.
The description of each detail of speech sounds across all languages.
The sound code of a particular language.
When we lock into a particular language, we don’t have to transcribe the features of sounds down to minute details if those features don’t change word meanings. When different sounds mean the same thing in a particular context, they are called allophones.
Different speech sounds that are understood as variations of the same sound without changing the meaning of a word. E.g. In the word ‘gate’ an aspirated /t/ or an unreleased /t/ are both acceptable.
As cute as a button
Here’s an example for you. Have you heard the word button pronounced with:
- a well-defined, aspirated [t] in the middle
- just a tap [ɾ] (like in the Spanish pero)
- or a glottal stop [ʔ], like in the middle of uh-oh!
All three of those can be transcribed as /t/ in English phonology because, in this position and context, each of them still are understood to be the same word.
But hang on! In Spanish, interchanging those sounds in that position does make a difference! Pero and peto are definitely not the same thing! If it makes you feel any better, it is so hard for native speakers of English to accept that tubo and tuvo are pronounced the same! This information can be helpful not only to accept allophones in English, but to understand that Spanish allophones need to split up in English pronunciation for Spanish speakers.
/b/ and /v/
Resources for learning English frequently mention these sounds among the most common challenges for Spanish speakers. Think back to when you first started learning English. Did similar words pronounced with /b/ and /v/ like berry and very ever sound like the same thing to you? If your answer is yes, but now these words sound unmistakably different from one another, congratulations, you have experienced a phoneme split!
Achieving this on a comprehension level means that you’re already halfway there. The next step is for pronunciation practice to allow for the same split to happen naturally on a production level.
How to practise English pronunciation for Spanish Speakers
If you haven’t already met, it’s time for us to introduce you to minimal pairs, two words that are pronounced exactly the same except for one sound. Here are some examples:
- ban /bæn/ and van /væn/
- sip /sɪp/ and zip /zɪp/
- chop /t∫ɒp/ and shop /∫ɒp/
You can use pairs like this to practise producing strong contrast between the sounds because the meanings of the words are completely unrelated! Lists of minimal pairs for key sounds can be found on the Cadenza website as part of a Voice Science Pronunciation Program.
On the topic of minimal pairs, it’s important to consider the difference between understanding the contrast, and knowing how to produce it. The latter relies heavily on tactile cues and instructions for exactly where to place your tongue and lips, how air should pass through your mouth and whether your voice should be switched on.
If these finer details currently feel like a mystery to you, the Voice Science team is here to help through a Personalised Pronunciation Audit and a program of structured sessions to unlock all the secrets you’re dreaming of!
We’re in it for the long-haul
If you’re anything like us at Voice Science, reading the information in parts 1 and 2 of this blog series has left you feeling energised and excited to improve your pronunciation clarity in English. This motivation is such a key component for getting started, but we’d be lying if we said that we don’t all occasionally feel like we’ve been ghosted by the drive we once had. Talk to your Voice Science clinician for tips and strategies for goal setting and practice trajectories, to help your love for English pronunciation survive past the honeymoon phase.
So, do you think it’s time that we…met?
At Voice Science, we’re not into blind dates. Our science-backed Personalised Pronunciation Audit process allows us to analyse the phonetic processes at play in your English pronunciation before your first session with us, so that once we meet, we’re already prepared for the deep and meaningful conversations you’ve been waiting for.
Pronunciation clarification sessions are individualised for you specifically, so that you can finally move away from general pointers.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and fully commit to your English pronunciation, walk down the aisle with us at Voice Science, and by that we mean “I’ll gain the pronunciation clarity I’ve always dreamt of!”