The Ultimate Guide to English Pronunciation Hacks for Native Speakers of Spanish (Part 1)

We share many helpful Spanish accent reduction strategies from Voice Science to improve your English pronunciation clarity.

spanish accent reduction

English Pronunciation and Spanish Speakers: what a power couple!

Are you a native speaker of Spanish who would like to strengthen your bond with English pronunciation? You’ve come to the right place!

You and native English speakers already have so much in common: you speak a global language; you have regional accents, dialects and vocabulary; your language is a ticket to the world and people from everywhere are striving to learn it. You just get it! You and English make the perfect team, but, of course, all good partnerships still have their challenges. If English pronunciation currently feels more enemy than ally, step right up! The team at Speechaus is here to show you strategic ways that you and English pronunciation can work together and, in fact, already are.

Right here waiting for you

If we compare English and Spanish pronunciation at face value, it’s pretty obvious that they sound vastly different. When we dig deeper, we realise that a fair number of consonant and vowel sounds cross over between the two (e.g. /n/ and /s/), perhaps with different spelling. So that only leaves the sounds that we need to learn from scratch, right? Not quite!

There is some extra phonetic overlap in some coarticulation processes in Spanish.

A process in which the pronunciation of a sound is influenced by an adjacent sound.

Here are a couple of coarticulation hacks for Spanish speakers learning English, trusty sounds that were with us all along.

The truth about -ing

Imagine you’re in an English class learning the ‘-ing’ verb suffix (e.g. playing, eating). Your teacher says you mustn’t produce a /g/ at the end (only a few specific regions of the UK do that!). So you diligently leave it off, producing only an /n/, but you can tell that it still doesn’t sound right…

Finally, you discover that the sound you need to create is called the ‘velar nasal’ /ŋ/ (umm, what does that even mean?!), and you brace yourself to learn this unfamiliar sound. Meanwhile, the Spanish speech sounds within you are crying out for your attention, shouting, “¡Ya lo tenemos! We already have this sound!”

It turns out that whenever you’ve produced an ‘n’ before a:

  • hard ‘c’, nunca
  • ‘q’, tranquilo
  • hard ‘g’, ángulo, or
  • soft ‘g’, ángel
    in Spanish, your tongue has been pulling backwards to produce /ŋ/.

¡Increíble! What a useful truquito lingüístico. Aunque it may come as a surprise, please don’t feel ingenu@ if you didn’t notice it sooner; the brain automatically takes care of these processes!

Call me on Zzzzoom

There’s another challenging English consonant that sneaks its way into Spanish, the /z/ sound like in zoo and please. Don’t believe us? Try saying the words mismo and desde, and you’ll find that there is some voicing on that /s/, making it…drumroll…/z/! So after all those years worrying about your English /z/ sounds, turns out you already had it in Spanish!

Wear Your Coraz(s)ón On Your Sleeve

At Speechaus, we adore accents and regional variations, and hope you do too! Time to embrace them, in all their glory, by paying close attention to distinct elements of different regional Spanish accents. Treat it like a treasure hunt; the gems we find will help with English pronunciation!

#1 Shhhhh

Do you find ‘sh’ /∫/ difficult in English? What about if you thought about it in terms of ‘ll’ or ‘y’ in Argentina, or ‘ch’ in Cádiz, Spain instead?

#2 The thing about ‘th’

Do you find yourself constantly replacing English ‘th’ sounds with either /t/ or /d/? Peninsular Spanish has the ‘z’ /θ/ sound, ready to be used in English as the voiceless ‘th’, like in ‘think’. And, fear not, words like ‘miedo’ can also help us with the voiced ‘th’ /ð/ like in ‘that’! If you can feel your tongue lightly touching your top teeth and a bit of vibration between them when you pronounce that ‘d’, your mouth is already well acquainted with this target sound.

#3 Admirable aspirations

The puff of air needed to produce aspirated /t/ /p/ /k/ sounds, might not sound quite so foreign once we think of aspirated /s/-blends ‘st’, ‘sp’ and ‘sk’ (e.g. fiesta pronounced as fiehta), like in many regions of South America such as Chile, and in Andalucía, Spain.

#4 Master-ing ‘-ing’

We mentioned earlier that English’s /ŋ/ sound can be found in Spanish through coarticulation processes, but for anyone familiar with Galician, listen out for it in words like unha!

#5 You say jump!

It can be hard to find an exact equivalent of the English /dʒ/ sound (e.g. jump, bridge) in Spanish, but we can get close! Consider the word yo produced with a strong ‘y’ in Bogotá, Colombia as an example of a close match!

#6 How to have a happy /h/ sound 

Technically speaking, the English /h/ sound is simply breathing, but we can also find similarities to the ‘j’ in Spanish in places like Colombia and Cuba where the sound is very soft. The air is simply passing smoothly through your mouth, so you shouldn’t feel any turbulent sensations, definitely not like the strong jjjota in Spain!

#7 Tilde-th do us part

The Spanish language is a gift that keeps on giving. Best of all, it gives its speakers word-stress superpowers! Word stress and phonetic spelling in Spanish are a perfect match, with the help of their trusty third wheel, the almighty tilde. Never forget, tricycles have more stability than bikes!

So what does tilde mean for improving our English pronunciation if English spelling doesn’t use any accents? To put it simply, it means that Spanish speakers have been training their whole lives to be able to not only identify word stress, but also shift it across syllables with ease.

Consider the following three words in Spanish:

  • término
  • termino
  • terminó

Spanish speakers are experts at detecting the syllable-stress difference in each; the strong syllable changes the meaning, so you have no choice but to know exactly where that stress lands. Next time you hear an unfamiliar multisyllabic word in English, before you even consider the sounds involved, simply internalise the stress pattern, the rhythm, using your Spanish-speaker superpowers and half the battle has already been won!

#8 One final detail…

All great partnerships still have their differences, and a key point to take into account in this case is that, unlike Spanish, a shift in word stress in English results in different vowels. Consider the word object. If anyone objects to this union, they’d better say it with a schwa /ə/ at the beginning! Whereas the object of our affection starts with /ɒ/!

The best is yet to come

We hope you’ve loved all of those examples as much as we enjoyed compiling them! So far we’ve covered the hidden strengths that Spanish speakers bring to English pronunciation, but it doesn’t stop there…

Join us for part 2 of this Spanish deep dive into English pronunciation for some fundamental tips on:

  • how to improve your pronunciation by analysing Spanish sounds that are challenging for English speakers; and
  • sounds that fuse together or split up as we move from Spanish to English pronunciation

¡Hasta la próxima!

Your Personalised English Pronunciation Audit by Speechaus

Want to get your English pronunciation off your screen and into your speech? Complete an English Pronunciation Assessment with the Speechaus team for a detailed phonetic analysis of your pronunciation, to map out the pathway of your individualised pronunciation program!

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