15 Hard Spanish Words You Probably Don’t Pronounce Right
In your language learning process, have you come across hard Spanish words that seem to be impossible to pronounce properly?
This is normal, as every language has its share of difficult words. The good news is that you are learning Spanish, rather than German or Polish where you would struggle to find vowels in some words.
While Spanish has its challenges, it’s quite straightforward in the way its letters sound, so once you master that, you should be fine.
Today, let’s explore some of the most common pronunciation issues for Spanish learners and discover strategies you can use to overcome them. I’ll introduce you to 15 hard Spanish words to pronounce and include a tip to help you pronounce each one of them.
Pronunciation Issues for Spanish Learners
In my years as Spanish teacher, I’ve noticed two main pronunciation issues among Spanish learners:
- Words with r
- Words with j
Although there are other hard Spanish words for new learners to pronounce, these two letters are the most challenging. Time and again, I repeat a helpful tongue twister taught to small children in Mexico to practice the r sound (more on this later), and pretend that I’m about to spit in the classroom to remind my students how the letter j sounds in Spanish.
Let me just be clear about one thing. When I say in the title of this article that you’ll never pronounce these hard Spanish words right, I mean that unless you follow the strategies I’m going to share with you in a moment, it will be difficult for you to pronounce them correctly.
4 Strategies for Correct Pronunciation in Spanish
By using these strategies, you’ll be able to correctly pronounce the hard Spanish words that I discuss below. Consider reading our Comprehensive Spanish Pronunciation Guide for Beginners, too.
1. Listen to Native Speakers
This is the most logical and useful strategy. What better way to learn to pronounce hard Spanish words than listening to how native Spanish speakers do it? The ideal way to do this is to practice with Spanish-speaking friends, but you can also hire a tutor, find a Spanish language partner, watch Latin American telenovelas (soap operas), or listen to Spanish podcasts.
However, listening is just the first step of the process. Once you’ve listened to how native Spanish speakers pronounce certain words, try to mimic the way they say them. That’s the natural way of learning a language. In fact, that’s how we all learned our native language—by mimicking our parents and repeating the sounds we heard.
2. Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters are a great (and fun!) tool to work on your pronunciation in Spanish. They train the muscles of your mouth to move correctly and focus on specific, hard-to-master sounds.
There’s no better example of this than the tongue twister my mother taught me when I was a little kid to help me learn to pronounce the letter r:
Erre con erre cigarro
Erre con erre barril
Erre con erre
Suenan las ruedas
R with r cigar
R with r barrel
R with r
Sound the wheels
Of the railway.
Although it doesn’t make much sense in English, I’m including the translation for you to know what you’re actually saying and help you give some meaning to the whole exercise. Try to pronounce slowly and exaggerate the sound of every r letter while you recite this Spanish tongue twister.
3. Exaggerate Sounds
Try to fully pronounce every vowel, consonant, and syllable when speaking Spanish. Don’t worry that you’re talking too slowly. You’re learning a new language, and people respect and understand your effort. Besides, it’s better to speak slowly with good pronunciation than fast with poor pronunciation.
4. Forget About English Vowel Sounds
This strategy goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. English and Spanish vowels work in completely different ways. In English, you have different sounds for each vowel depending on the word and position of the letter (think about the way the letter “e” sounds in “elephant” and “speed” for example). In contrast, in Spanish all vowels are pronounced in exactly the same way every time.
Make sure to learn the right way to pronounce every Spanish vowel, and remember that their sounds never change. Trust me, this is the best way to improve your pronunciation and sound like a native Spanish speaker.
15 Hard Spanish Words to Pronounce
Apply the above strategies to the following list of hard Spanish words to pronounce and master them today!
1. Ferrocarril (railway)
What makes this word so difficult even for native Spanish speakers, is the presence of two rr or “double Rs.” This sound is complicated to achieve, as the tip of your tongue should touch the top of your mouth and then vibrate up and down.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Listen to this variation of the tongue twister I shared above.
La estación de ferrocarril está cerrada los domingos.
The railway station is closed on Sundays.
2. Ronronear (to purr)
Keeping with the r sound, ronronear includes the two different ways this consonant is pronounced in Spanish, which makes it challenging to pronounce. Try the roll r sound at the beginning and in the middle of the word, then use the soft r sound at the end.
To learn more, read Ready to Roll: How to Roll Your Rs Like a Pro.
Este gato nunca se cansa de ronronear.
This cat never gets tired of purring.
3. Raro (rare, weird)
This is one of those hard Spanish words to pronounce even for native speakers. Pronounce the first r as a rolled r and the second one as a soft r. Give yourself the time to pronounce each vowel correctly and completely.
Tu amigo es un poco raro.
Your friend is a bit weird.
4. Tortuga (turtle, tortoise)
The reason tortuga is a complicated word for Spanish learners is that the equivalent words in English—“turtle” and “tortoise”—are actually similar to tortuga. When this happens, the muscles of your mouth try to say the word that they remember the best, which are obviously the English words.
Try emphasizing each vowel to properly separate the syllables, and remember that before an a you have to use the soft g sound.
La tortuga venció a la liebre con paciencia y esfuerzo.
The tortoise beat the hare with patience and effort.
5. Pingüino (penguin)
The difficulty of this word resides in those strange points over the u. They’re called diéresis (umlaut), and you use them in Spanish to signal that you need to pronounce the u between the g and the i.
If this combination of letters (gui) doesn’t include diéresis, then the u is silent. Learn more about the Pronunciation of Vowels and Letters C and G in Spanish.
Los pingüinos viven en la Antártica.
Penguins live in the Antarctic.
6. Carrera (race/career)
Carrera means both race (as in a competition) and career, and it includes the two types of r pronunciations and one of the two types of c pronunciations. So, it’s understandable that learners of the language struggle with it.
Start pronouncing a strong c and open your mouth completely to properly pronounce the a sound in Spanish. Then focus on pronouncing a good, strong rolling r before finishing the word with a soft r.
Too many rules to think about in a single word? Maybe, but once you get it right, you won’t have to worry again about it.
La carrera está a punto de comenzar.
The race is about to start.
7. Tarde (afternoon/late)
Tarde means both afternoon and late, as in llegas tarde (you’re late). The combination of the letters r and d requires a difficult movement of the tongue for non-native speakers of the language. Focus your efforts on getting the r sound right, and then finish the word with a solid de syllable.
Paso por ti en la tarde.
I’ll pick you up in the afternoon.
8. Idea (idea)
The complexity of this word is that the spelling is the same in both languages. However, the sounds of the vowels completely change, and that messes with Spanish learners’ minds.
Forget about the English pronunciation of the word. Remember how Spanish vowels are always pronounced the same way, and just give you the time to pronounce each one of them the right way.
Me gusta tu idea de ir a la playa.
I like your idea of going to the beach.
9. Cumpleaños (birthday)
A good way to simplify the pronunciation of this word is to divide it in syllables first: cum-ple-a-ños. Now, pronounce each syllable, starting with a strong c, pronouncing the m, and pausing before starting with the p sound. Then just remember that the ñ sounds like the “ny” sound in the English word “canyon.”
¡Hoy es mi cumpleaños!
Today is my birthday!
10. Aeropuerto (airport)
While in English you say “air” in a single syllable, you need two syllables to say aero. Repeat this part of the word and notice how much the muscles of your mouth need to move.
Just give time for each vowel. No need to rush them, as that’s when the pronunciation problems arise.
Voy al aeropuerto a recoger a tu hermana.
I’m going to the airport to pick up your sister.
11. Ojalá (hopefully)
The j sound in Spanish is one of the most difficult ones for English-speaking people. It’s a strong sound similar to that of the English “h” in words such as “ham.” It’s so strong that it sounds as if you were about to spit. I know it’s not a pleasant image, but it’s one that you’ll remember.
Ojalá puedas venir a mi fiesta.
I hope you can come to my party.
12. Vergüenza (shame)
This word involves several of the most difficult sounds in Spanish: the v sound, the soft r sound, and the soft g sound. Then you need to think about pronouncing the u thanks to the diéresis, and if you’re in Spain, don’t forget to cecear when pronouncing the z.
¡Esto es una vergüenza!
This is a shame!
13. Idiosincrasia (idiosyncrasy)
Long words with lots of vowels are always challenging for learners of any language. Besides, idiosincrasia has the same problem as idea, meaning that the equivalent word in English is similar in its spelling but different in its pronunciation.
Focus on the sounds of your Spanish vowels and trust them. Don’t let your English-speaking instincts get in your way to pronounce this hard Spanish word correctly.
La idiosincrasia del pueblo mexicano es muy interesante.
The idiosyncrasy of the Mexican people is very interesting.
14. Aguacate (avocado)
The problems with this word are once again the vowels and the tendency of English speakers to pronounce them as they would in English. Give each vowel its time and make sure to pronounce the right sound for each one.
Estos aguacates están deliciosos.
These avocados are delicious.
15. Paraguas (umbrella)
Pronounce slowly this word with a soft r and a soft g, and remember the u!
¿Dónde está mi paraguas?
Where is my umbrella?
Master These Hard Spanish Words
How? By practicing them. That’s the only way. You won’t learn Spanish pronunciation by reading books and blogs, you need to engage in real conversations (preferably with native Spanish speakers) in order to use the strategies you just learned and listen to yourself pronouncing these words.
Sign up for a free class with one of our certified teachers from Guatemala and start pronouncing these hard Spanish words the right way today!
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