Spanish Pronunciation Problems in English
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|One of the most common errors for Spanish learners of English is inserting a schwa sound or what is known as the “epenthetic vowel” in phonetics before words beginning with /s/ + another consonant. |
This results in adding a syllable to the word and consequently in distorting the overall intonation and rhythm of the learners’ speech.
|Stop; Speak; Snow; Snake; Story; Smile etc.|
|Another common error for Spanish learners is substituting the schwa sound (as in the case of most vowels) for another vowel based on spelling. Spanish learners pronounce the English letters as in Spanish. |
Unlike English, Spanish letters are written as pronounced and so the learners are not confused with the difference between spelling and sound.
Since, in spoken English, the schwa sound is the most common vowel in English, mispronouncing it has a severe impact on the learners’ intelligibility.
For example in words such as [available], the first two schwa sounds are represented by letter [a], which is normally pronounced as vowel /a/ or /ɑː/ in Spanish.
|Responsib(ə)le; Personality; Vegetab(ə)les; stationary etc.|
|Again, the confusion between sound and spelling causes the Spanish learner to substitute vowel /æ/ for /a/ or /ɑː/. |
Even when corrected, the learners could produce /æ/ as /e/ which is an even shorter and more relaxed sound.
Although /æ/ is categorized as a short vowel, it sounds slightly longer than /e/ especially before the voiced consonants /b/ and /d/ as the jaw opens wider and the tongue falls lower inside the mouth.
|Have; Cat; Fat; Rat; plaid; apple; advertising; address etc.|
|Another major error Spanish learners commit is confusing the vowels /i/ and /ɪ/. |
Usually both vowels are pronounced as a short Spanish letter [i], which somewhat sounds similar to the Australian vowel /ɪ/.
The learners’ brains are programmed to produce this sound when they see the letter [i] regardless of the language they’re learning.
Highlighting the difference between the American /i:/ and /ɪ/ is easier for Spanish learners to grasp as it’s more distinguishable.
|/i/: Need; read; treat; believe; meat; wheel; receipt etc./ɪ/: Knit; rid; tit; live; mitt; will; sit etc.|
|Spanish learners usually like to chop vowels or tend to shorten them considerably.|
The vowel /ɑː/ is also either replaced with /ɔ/ or /ʌ/ partially due to the learners’ confusion with spelling.
In general however, Spanish learners need to be trained on stretching long vowels for a better production of the English rhythm and music.
|Robot; caught; call; mall; fought; stop; wall etc.|
|As in the case of /i/ and /ɪ/, Spanish learners confuse the vowels /u/ and /ʊ/ and have great difficulty in specifically producing /u:/ as it requires retracting the tongue backwards high inside the mouth. |
What learners do automatically when they see the letter [u] is produce a tense /ʊ/ (though it is a lax vowel in English), a sound that is somewhat uncommon in Native English.
|/u:/: Room; tooth; food; mood; rude; wooed etc./ʊ/: Book; put; foot; hood; could; would etc.|
|This vowel is classified as a diphthong. This means that the learners have to produce two sounds at the same time, a vowel /ɔ/ and a consonant /w/. |
Spanish speakers only pronounce the vowel and leave the consonant out. Their lips do not form a tight circle at the end of the sound as they should.
|Wrote; old; boat; coat; mode; road; showed etc.|
|Both of these vowels are again diphthongs, which means that Spanish speakers struggle to combine a vowel with a consonant.|
This gets harder to perform when the vowel occurs between two consonants such as [name] or [wide].
It’s extremely difficult for Spanish speakers as it is for most English learners to move the tongue down and then immediately back up to the highest point inside the mouth to produce consonant /j/ followed with a consonant.
This leads Spanish speakers to omit the /j/ altogether at times or mispronounce the vowel preceding it whether it happens to be /e/ or /a/.
|/eɪ/: Name; date; wait; train; great; same; wage etc./aɪ/: right; fight; side; light; tried; hide; night etc.|
|Both of these consonants require that the speakers place the tip of the tongue between the teeth and and let the air escape through a little gap between the tongue and teeth but Spanish learners ,as with most learners of English, seem to find this quite difficult to manage.|
What happens then is that they keep their tongue inside and press the tongue tip against their teeth resulting in /t/ instead of /θ/ and /d/ instead of /ð/.
|/θ/: thin; wrath; moth; thigh; Ruth; truth etc./ð/: weather; loathe; then; writhe; scythe; rather etc.|
|It needs to be remembered that this is a consonant produced by closing the lips and pushing air through the nose at the same time. |
Spanish speakers have no problem pronouncing this consonant when it’s in the beginning of the word as in [miss] or [mister] but when it occurs in the end of the word, they fail to close their lips. Instead, they only raise their tongue tip up towards the gum producing /n/.
The students need to be reminded to close their lips completely when they see /m/ in the end.
The real challenge though is when Spanish learners have to pronounce [th] after /m/ as this requires sticking the tip between the teeth immediately after closing the lips for /m/.
|Dream; rhyme; fame; William; sitcom; some etc.|
|When /n/ is either in the beginning or middle of the word, Spanish speakers place the the tongue tip between the teeth instead of bringing it into contact with the alveolar ridge.|
Although this does not affect the sound much, it delays the production of the succeeding sounds.
Consider the word [anything]. When /n/ is the final sound of a word, Spanish speakers tend to confuse it with /ŋ/ and thus fail to raise their tongue tip up to contact the gum ridge and when they are instructed to do that, they have an issue synchronizing the movement of the tongue with releasing the air out.
/n/ then does not sound entirely clear when it’s at the end of the word. Ironically, when Spanish speakers see [ng] in the end, they sometimes pronounce it as /n/ raising the tip of their tongue to touch the ridge area.
|/n/ (beginning and middle): name; knight; north; listener; onion etc.|
/n/ (end): corn; thin; pen; can; listen; Huston; pardon etc.
|In general, for Spanish speakers, all phonemes that involve contact with the alveolar ridge, including /d/ and /t/, are difficult. |
Some learners will place the tip of the tongue between the teeth and stop the air by pressing their teeth on the tip of the tongue.
While this does not cause a major change in the sound, it affects the production of either the preceding or succeeding sounds.
|/d/: date; confide; inside; Dominic; doctor; murder etc.|
/t/: better; fertility; until; maternity; material etc.
|As with most English learners, Spanish learners encounter enormous problems in producing the English /r/ especially the American /r/ sound. |
The Spanish /r/ is produced as a result of holding the tip of the tongue very close to the ridge area and moving it so fast that it creates sound vibration.
The students need to be instructed to keep the tip of their tongue away from the gum to avoid making such vibration.
|Right; over; cartoon; bird; there; service etc.|
|Like in most European languages, the Spanish /l/ is not the same as that in English as the bottom and body of the tongue are quite elevated compared to English. |
The English /l/ on the other hand requires that the speaker lower the bottom and body of the tongue inside the mouth as is in the case of /ɑ/ without opening the jaw.
Most Spanish speakers place the tip of the tongue against the ridge as you would instruct them but still fail to produce the correct sound and this is due to their inability to correctly position the backside of their tongue low and deep inside the mouth
|Like; love; call; fallen; sold; deal; field etc|
|One of the most frequent errors for Spanish learners is voicing and de-voicing consonant. Quite a significant problem for them is /z/ + vowel as in [zero] which is pronounced as /si:roʊ/ but also /s/ + consosnant as in [sleep], which is sometimes pronounced as /zli:p/. |
It remains most difficult for them however to voice the final [s] in the word as in [please].Voicing and de-voicing consonants is an issue that does not only affect /s/, it also affects /f/ and /v/, /k/ and /g/, /t/ and /d/, /tʃ/ and /ʤ/, /∫/ and /ʒ/, /p/ and /p/ and finally /θ/ and /ð/.
Sometimes the above consonants are also omitted from word endings depending on what comes after them.
|/z/: zero; please; is; rise; hazard; hazel;he’s ill etc.|
/f/ and /v/: five and “fife”/k/ and /g/: log and lock
/t/ and /d/: kid and kit
/∫/ and /ʒ/: usually and “ushully”
/p/ and /p/: Bob and bop
/θ/ and /ð/: with and width
|Not all Spanish learners make the same error as it depends on the area they come from as well as the level of proficiency. |
The error occurs when Spanish students move the root of the tongue back towards the velum narrowing the air passage considerably.
Such a sound is also known to be a feature of the Arabic language. In English, the voiceless consonant /h/ is made by relaxing the tongue completely and letting the air flow out of the mouth without interference from the tongue.
Commonly, Spanish learners mispronounce this consonant at the beginning of the word as in [have].
|/h/: have; height; hell; husband; helicopter; haste etc.|
|Spanish learners find it extremely difficult to begin a word with consonant /j/ as in [yes]. Producing /j/ correctly requires that learners hold their tongue up very high and close to the hard palate without touching it.|
Beginning a word in such a position seems to be quite problematic for Spanish speakers whose tongue involuntarily comes into contact with the palate when attempting to do this resulting in a consonant that sounds very similar to /ʤ/ and sometimes /dj/.
Strangely, when Spanish learners come across a word that starts with a /ʤ/, they start it with /j/.
|/j/: yes; yell; yet; you; University etc./ʤ/: John; germs; job; gel; jewelry etc.|
|The major issue with this consonant only occurs when it precedes vowel /ʊ/ as in [would]. What happens is that Spanish learners involuntarily insert a /g/ before /w/ which makes [would] sound like [good]. |
The reason this occurs is that when we usually produce /ʊ/, our tongue goes backwards towards the soft palate, but in the case of Spanish learners, it goes further back until it touches it resulting in [g].
|/w/: would; wood; wool; wolf; womb etc.|
|Apart from de-voicing or omitting /v/ at word endings, Spanish learners are not able to prevent the upper lip from coming into contact with the lower lip when producing /v/, the result is /b/. |
The greatest challenge for Spanish learners is represented by the word [over] when they are supposed to produce the vowel /oʊ/ prior to /v/ which requires them to move both lips, then freeze the upper lip and move the lower lip independently against the upper teeth.
|/v/: over; oval; rove; novel; hover; drove|
but alsoProve; move; I’ve etc.