Most Common Mistakes in Spanish Pronunciation
If you’re wondering “how good is my pronunciation in Spanish?” or if you’re thinking, “I’d like to correct my mistakes in Spanish pronunciation,” then this article is for you.
In this lesson, I will analyze the pronunciation issues in Spanish, and the top 5 common mistakes English native speakers make when speaking Spanish. I will also provide a useful strategy to avoid making these mistakes and perfecting your Spanish pronunciation.
Pronunciation in Spanish
A good pronunciation in Spanish is a sign of an advanced Spanish student. The way the Spanish language is designed, with only 5 vowel sounds that are always pronounced in the exact same way, produces very strong accents among learners of the language.
That way, it’s quite common to find a native English speaker pronouncing words and letters in Spanish with a stronger accent than a native Spanish speaker would use. It’s sometimes a sort of overcompensation.
The Spanish language has some very distinctive and strong sounds, such as that of the double R or the J or “jota.” Their reproduction is at times quite hard for English speakers, but the secret relies on where to put the effort.
Pronunciation mistakes happen in Spanish and we all do them. Yes, even native Spanish speakers. Learning about the most common mistakes in Spanish pronunciation is a good way to avoid them and find a solution to specific pronunciation issues that may present a challenge to Spanish learners.
5 Common Mistakes in Spanish Pronunciation
I’ve compiled this list for you with five of the most common mistakes English speakers make in Spanish pronunciation, and I’m including strategies to avoid each one of them.
The Trilled R
The r sound in Spanish may be the most feared one by my Spanish students. They hear guitarra or ferrocarril and it seems all they hear is RRRR and RRRR. However, the r actually has two different sounds in Spanish, and that characteristic RRRR trill is found only in very specific situations.
When you find a letter r in the middle of a Spanish word you should never try that trilling sound. Instead, try pronouncing the “dd” English sound from words like “added” or “paddle,” or the “tt” sound from words such as “butter.”
That way caro or “expensive” should be pronounced like “caddo.” If you try to overcompensate and produce the trilling RRRR sound, you would be changing the word to carro which means “car.”
I know it’s difficult to achieve a proper pronunciation of the trilled R in Spanish, and once you get it right, you try to use it as much as possible. But remember, the hard R or trilled R in Spanish should only be pronounced when the R is at the beginning of a word (radio, río, Rodrigo) or when you find a double r in the word (carro, guitarra, ferrocarril).
The Silent H
If you want to hear funny mistakes in Spanish, try teaching the “sound” of the letter H to a group of Spanish students. That’s because in Spanish the H is silent and it has no sound at all. Well, getting across my groups that simple fact, is never as simple as it looks.
This mistake usually takes place when the h is located in the middle, in words such as zanahoria, bohemio or vehículo. These words shouldn’t be pronounced like zanajoria, bojemio or vejículo, but like zanaoria, boemio and veículo.
The H in Spanish is like it doesn’t even exist. Then, why is it still there? That’s a good question and perhaps the topic of a future post, but for now all you need to remember is that whenever you see a letter H in Spanish just pretend that it’s not there (unless it comes after the letter C and then you would have to pronounce the CH sound).
The Difficult G and J
Few letter sounds give more headaches to Spanish students than the difficult G and J. This has a lot to do with the strange relationship that the letters G and J have.
In English, when the “g” is followed by an “e” or an “i” it usually has the same sound as the “j.” The same thing happens in Spanish, where the word gato is pronounced with a hard g, but the “g” in girasol is pronounced with a hard English “h” sound.
This unique situation generates confusion among Spanish learners who have to think before saying every word and it’s common that they get the wrong sound.
What can you do?
Try always pronouncing the Spanish J as the English H. These two sounds aren’t exactly the same, but they’re close enough and everyone will understand you if you pronounce cajón like “ca-hon.”
The same thing applies for when you get a -ge or -gi syllable in a Spanish word—pronounce it as an English “h.”
While in English the vowels have different sounds depending on the word and position of the letter. In Spanish, every vowel has one and only one sound. The A is always “ah,” and the E should always be pronounced like “eh.”
Native English speakers tend to apply the varying sounds of the English vowels to Spanish words. This is just normal, as your brain is wired that way.
However, in this case the Spanish way is a much simpler way than the English one. Learn the 5 vowel sounds “ah,” “eh,” “ih,” “oh,” “uh,” and discover how much this fact simplifies your Spanish learning process.
The LL Isn’t the L
In Spanish, the LL is just another version of the same “Y” sound. The word silla (chair) should be pronounced as “seeh-yah,” but Spanish learners tend to pronounce it like “seeh-lee-ah.”
Once again, the problem here is that students apply their English phonetic knowledge to the Spanish language. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.
To avoid this mistake in Spanish, try to visualize in your mind the LL as a Y. Every time you see a LL in Spanish, think that it’s a Y and pronounce it like one.
Practice Your Spanish Pronunciation!
We all make mistakes in Spanish! You’re learning a new language and you need to first make mistakes in Spanish in order to master it. The secret lies in making all those mistakes while practicing at home or at school, instead of in real life.
In pronunciation, as in most things, practice makes perfect, and a perfect Spanish pronunciation will open many doors for you as the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that interpreters and translators are among the fastest-growing occupations.
Practice your pronunciation in real-time with real teachers! Sign up for a free Spanish class with one of our native, certified teachers from Guatemala, we offer flexible schedules and tailored Spanish packages.
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