Which words are most difficult for Spanish Speakers to pronounce?
At Confidence Learning Services, we freely admit that English is a difficult language to pronounce. That’s why we offer advanced English Pronunciation courses and offer tips and videos on Accent Reduction. While our English Pronunciation courses are personalized (meaning we plan our lessons based on an in-depth, one-on-one evaluation with you), there are some aspects of English pronunciation that are difficult for almost all Spanish language speakers.
Spanish has 5 pure vowels and 5 diphthongs. Vowel length is not significant in distinguishing between words. However, English, has 12 pure vowel sounds and 8 diphthongs. The length of the vowel sound plays an important role. It is not surprising, therefore, that Spanish background learners may have great difficulty in producing or even perceiving the various English vowel sounds.
Let’s take a closer look at the Top 11 English words that Spanish-speakers mispronounce when trying to learn English.
A simple word (for native English speakers) like ‘breakfast’ is tough for Spanish-speakers, who struggle with consonant clusters. Spanish-speakers will often pronounce it ‘brefas’ and omit the ‘k’ and the final ‘t’ because they are attached to another consonant.
Some people have trouble mastering the “th” sound on words like “teeth.” (For fun, try speaking “teeth” without the “th” sound. Oops, You might not want to try that out loud!)
Another one of these English words where the relaxed “i” /I/ tends to get replaced with a tense “e” /i/, making it “sheep”. Spanish-speakers often make vowel sounds tense, or “long,” and confuse pairs of “short” and “long” English vowel sounds like “ship” and “sheep” both in comprehension and speaking.
8. Joke/Yolk or Jess/Yes
In most Spanish dialects, the sounds for English letter “J” /dʒ/ and English letter “Y” /j/ are allophones, meaning that they can subsitute for one another. So the Spanish word “ella” can be pronounced with either sound. Thus, it can be difficult for Spanish-speakers to learn to differentiate between the two sounds. Many people who speak Spanish pronounce the letter J like the letter Y, or pronounce the letter Y like the letter J.
So, if you tell someone: “That is a funny joke”, and if you mispronounce the “J”, “joke” will sound like “yolk” (meaning the yellow part of an egg), which is difficult to understand. Likewise, if you pronounce the “Y” as “J” and say “Yes I do”, then “Yes” sounds like “Jess” and someone may think you are speaking to someone named Jess.
In English, our letter “O” is actually a diphthong, /oʊ/. The key to saying this correctly is remembering to make the “o” a long one, with the lips closing down throughout the sound. Many however replace the long “o” with “uh”, making it “fuhcus”. Look at that word again. “Ladies and gentlemen, if there’s one thing I want you to do today, it’s “f***us!” You may get in trouble for that one!
This is a common mispronunciation for many English learners and not just Spanish-speakers. While learning English, some speakers say “chicken” instead of “kitchen”. To make it clear, we usually prepare chicken in a kitchen.
Spanish-speakers while learning English often mispronounce “ask” as “axe.” So, if you say : ‘You don’t have to axe me why’, it certainly doesn’t mean what you want to say!
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.
Perhaps more importantly, they can also have problems with the two closest sounds to an “o” sound in “not” , making “comma” and “coma” difficult to distinguish.
Most Spanish-speakers have difficulty distinguishing between /uː/ and /ʊ/. While /uː/ is very similar to the Spanish letter “u“, it is actually long, or “tense”. /ʊ/ is considered “short” or “lax,” without the tightly-rounded lips. It’s important to note that pull and pool are not homophones.
Yes, there are accent differences, but there are also a few common pronunciation mistakes Spanish learners of English can make. Some tend to want to add an “e” to the beginning of words that start with ‘s’ followed by a consonant, making the word stop sound like “estop”.