Improving your English as a Native Spanish Speaker

Is Spanish Your First Language? Common Pronunciation Problems You Might Face

When working to improve your English as a native Spanish speaker, one of the most challenging aspects is becoming comfortable using English pronunciation.

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Words and sentences in Spanish are approached differently than in English, requiring speakers to learn a new set of pronunciation rules in order to properly communicate using connecting sounds, intonation, and stress. Even if you have spoken English for decades, pronunciation can still be difficult.

When learning English, it’s important to focus on using correct English pronunciation in order to avoid forming a habit of pronouncing words and sentences incorrectly. By overviewing the top three pronunciation problems native Spanish speakers face when learning English, you can evaluate your own English pronunciation and see how well you speak with an American accent.

Pronouncing the “th” sounds /ð/ /θ/

The fact that the English letter combination can be pronounced two ways, voiced (with vibration in the throat and vocal chords) and unvoiced (with no vocal chord vibration) doesn’t help that it is an already difficult sound.

Both of these sounds involve the tongue coming out between the teeth and making a continuous sound that can be held out for several seconds if necessary. The air should not be completely stopped, but there should be constant friction between the tongue and the teeth.

Because this is an awkward sound to make (sticking the tongue out of the mouth feels a little weird!), Spanish speakers often substitute /t/ for the unvoiced “th” /θ/ sound and a /d/ for the voiced “th” /ð/ sound. Thus, the English words “that” and “other” are often pronounced as “dat” and “oder” and the English words “three” and “thing” are pronounced as “tree” and “ting.

To see if you’re pronouncing the English “th” sound correctly, it’s best to look at yourself in the mirror as you pronounce words like “that” “other” “three” and “thing”. If you can see the tongue coming out between the teeth, you know you are probably pronouncing those sounds correctly. Additionally, you should feel some friction, vibration, or tingling in the tongue as you say these sounds.

It’s not enough to say these sounds correctly in front of a mirror by yourself. Your correct pronunciation must be used in your speech. Try saying the sentence, “Get those other three things, please.” Focus on using correct pronunciation as you pronounce this sentence. Then, you can focus on pronouncing this sound clearly in your regular speech.

S-blend Pronunciation

In English, we often pronounce many consonants together at once, which is different from Spanish pronunciation. As a result, Spanish speakers tend to insert extra vowel sounds in their words. This is especially problematic for words that begin with “s” followed by another consonant (sp-, sl-, st-, sk-, sp-, etc.).

As a result, Spanish speakers usually pronounce words like “spit” as “espit” or “slide” as “eslide.”

English pronunciation

To see if you’re pronouncing these words correctly, try saying the word “stop.” Place your hand on your neck, and pay close attention to the vibration that you feel, repeating the word several times. If you feel vibration at the beginning of the word, or if you feel your vibration turning off and on again within the word, you know that you are not pronouncing the word correctly. You should not feel any vibration in the neck until you say the “o” sound.

To practice this sound in context, practice saying the sentence, “Please speak to your son about screaming and slapping the other students.”

Pronunciation of Final Consonant Blends

Similarly, English combines many consonants at the end of words, and this can be difficult as well.

Thus, words like “tired” may be pronounced “tire”, “hold” is pronounced “hole” and “last” is pronounced “last.”

To see if you’re pronouncing these sounds clearly, record yourself saying the following sentence combinations:

“I watched a lot of TV/ I watch a lot of TV”

“I cleaned the house/I clean the house”

“You added an extra sound/You add an extra sound.”

Can you hear a clear difference between the first sentence and second sentence in each pair? If not, you’re not pronouncing those consonant blends correctly.

To practice these sounds, try saying two words together, like “feel down”, and then gradually eliminate more and more of the word “down” so you are saying “field”, still retaining a clear /d/ sound.

Due to the varying pronunciation problems that exist when learning English as a Spanish speaker, and the small differences that differentiate letters, working with an online Accent coach is one of the easiest ways to ensure you learn English pronunciation correctly. Participating in an online educational setting, native Spanish speakers can work one-on-one with a certified instructor to receive a personalized accent assessment and pinpoint specific pronunciation areas that need improvement.

You can improve your American English pronunciation and fluency between 50-80% in just 12-weeks! Sign up today for a free evaluation to see how Confidence Accent Reduction can work for you. 

by Laura Brewer