Spanish is a beautiful language rich with culture, history, and emotion. It’s also accompanied by a relatively easy-to-follow set of rules regarding pronunciation, with spelling and pronunciation typically going hand-in-hand and well-defined guidelines regarding stress placement.
English, in contrast, has a wide variety of spellings and pronunciations. While it’s clear to native speakers how to pronounce a given word, the process is not nearly as intuitive for speakers whose native language is Spanish.
But it’s not just that - Spanish and English also differ linguistically and phonetically, meaning that certain sounds that exist in English simply don’t come naturally to native Spanish speakers.
Perfecting the pronunciation of English words as a native Spanish speaker isn’t impossible, though - it just takes knowledge and practice. Recognizing and understanding these English pronunciation problems for Spanish speakers can transform the way you view language learning and greatly accelerate your pronunciation.
This guide is here to provide you with that knowledge. Join us as we analyze common pronunciation mistakes in English for Spanish speakers and introduce strategies to overcome those challenges so that before you know it, you’re wowing your friends and blending right in with the locals.
Certain consonants are pronounced differently in Spanish and English, which can cause difficulty for Spanish speakers learning English. Let’s take a look at some of the most common pronunciation issues with English consonants.
Native Spanish speakers pronounce the letters "b" and "v" exactly the same way. In English, these letters represent distinct sounds. As a result, Spanish speakers tend to incorrectly pronounce the English V as a Spanish B.
The English V is a fricative sound, which means that sound is produced by adjusting the mouth so that the passage of air is mostly - but not entirely - blocked. The air moving through the mouth then generates audible friction.
In contrast, B in English is a plosive. The passage of air is briefly fully blocked with both lips before being released.
For extra guidance, check out an excerpt of this practice session with BoldVoice Coach Josh and native Spanish speaker Luis.
To help you continue to notice the difference between these sounds and to develop your pronunciation, you can also practice using minimal pairs. These are pairs of words which differ in only a single sound, and which have distinct meanings.
For instance, the words “bet” and “vet” are minimal pairs, or the words “jive” and “jibe.” It may be helpful to record yourself speaking these pairs to better notice the different sounds and fix pronunciation errors.
Similarly, Y and J are distinct sounds in English yet they are considered to be two versions of the same sound in Spanish, often causing trouble for native Spanish speakers learning English.
Take the word “pollo,” for example. Speakers from Spain would pronounce the double "l" as a sort of Y sound, while someone from Colombia would insert more of a J sound.
In English, Y sounds are produced with the body of the tongue very close to the hard palate, with the sides of the tongue touching the top, side teeth.
J on the other hand, is produced by placing the tip of the tongue against the back tooth ridge while the sides of the tongue press against the top, side teeth.
Again, you can practice distinguishing these sounds through minimal pairs like “yet” and “jet,” or “yellow” and “jello.”
The English R is notoriously difficult to learn for non-native learners, Spanish speakers included.
Spanish uses tapped or trilled R sounds which take place at the front of the mouth - for example, the tapped R in “pero” or the trilled R in “perro.” English, however, pronounces R much further back in the mouth.
Here's another example. Take the word “trip.” A Spanish native speaker will pronounce the “r” by tapping it to the roof of their mouth. The American R is not made by the tapping action, but the molar bracing action. We wrote an entire post on the differences between the Spanish and American R to help you master this sound and reach clarity.
Now listen to the American pronunciation carefully and try to recreate that sound yourself:
Consonant clusters - groupings of consonants with no vowel in between - featuring the R sound tend to cause particularly difficult pronunciation issues for Spanish speakers. While intermediate speakers may be comfortable with the R pronunciation at the beginning of a word, they might still struggle to pronounce words like “drive,” “apron,” or “straight” without reverting back to their typical flapped R.
To practice, experiment with tongue twisters that focus on the R sound. For instance, the phrase “rustle of trees and ripple of rain, roaring of rivers across the plain” incorporates the R sound both at the beginning of words, in the middle, and amongst consonant clusters. You can even make up your own tongue twisters to focus on the areas of pronunciation that trip you up the most.
In the Spanish language there is no instance of a word beginning with ‘s’ and another consonant, so it comes as no surprise that pronouncing those words in English presents challenges.
When facing these particular consonant clusters, Spanish speakers tend to insert an E sound to the beginning of these words. The English word “smog” makes a great example - when introduced into Spanish as a borrowed word, “smog” remained unchanged except for that additional initial ‘e,’ resulting in “esmog.” This concept transfers to the pronunciation of many other words, turning “school” into “eschool” and “smart” into “esmart.”
Pay attention to words beginning with the sounds “sp,” “st,” “sk,” “sl,” and “sm.” To work on mastering this pronunciation in English, begin by emphasizing the S sound at the start of a word. Instead of simply saying “star,” try saying “ssssstar.” Many Spanish speakers find that this technique helps them to avoid inserting that initial E sound.
As you improve, begin incorporating these words into longer phrases and sentences. Practice using tongue twisters or by singing along to songs which feature these consonant cluster sounds. As you continue to get used to creating these sounds on your own, the easier they will be to incorporate into conversations. Before you know it, the pronunciation will become second nature.
Spanish speakers typically run into one of two problems when they encounter an H sound in English. They either omit the H when it should be pronounced, or they over-emphasize the H when English uses a softer sound.
H is often silent in Spanish, which is why Spanish speakers may naturally omit the sound when speaking English. Consider “hablar” or “ahora,” for example. English, on the other hand, pronounces the H, like in words such as “happy” or “behind.”
Alternatively, the sound for the letter J in Spanish is a sort of extreme version of how English speakers pronounce H - like in the word “jalepeño,” for example. As a result, Spanish speakers will sometimes over-pronounce H sounds when speaking English.
This concept is further explained in Section 1 of our 7 Pronunciation Mistakes that Spanish Native Speakers Make in English (and How to Fix Them) video.
In English, the H sound is a voiceless, fricative consonant. When pronounced correctly, the tongue is not in contact with any part of the mouth. Simply breathe out sharply and produce a short burst of air, which then leads into the next sound.
To practice, repeat English words featuring an H while holding a sheet of paper in front of your mouth. When done correctly, the paper will move slightly as a result of the short bursts of air you produce as you pronounce the ‘H’ sounds.
Nasal sounds like the ‘ng’ sound are tricky for Spanish native speakers to make.
Take the word “kicking.” Spanish native speakers make the nasal consonant “ng” at the end of the word by using the front of their tongue, which ends up sounding like a "n".
The majority of English speakers would use the back of their tongue for that sound, emphasizing the “g” in the “ing”.
Making this subtle change will allow you to become much more clear with your pronunciation.
Spanish words typically don’t end in consonant clusters, while it’s a regular occurrence in the English language. As a result, dropping the final consonant sound at the end of a word is a common pronunciation error made by Spanish speakers learning English.
For example, a Spanish speaker might say “dentis” instead of “dentist,” or “behin” in place of “behind.” The same mistake can occur with words ending in ‘-ed,’ like the word “laughed” being pronounced as “laugh.”
To overcome this challenge, Spanish speakers can practice linking words together in a sentence when speaking English, just like native speakers do. Rather than pronouncing each word as a distinct element, allow the sounds to flow from one word to another to create a fluid phrase rather than a collection of distinct words.
Instead of “I looked at it,” for example, try saying “I look dat it.” Linking the ending of one word to the beginning of another not only helps to combat the common error of dropping final consonants, but it helps you to sound like a more natural, native speaker of English.
Another helpful exercise is to practice placing the stress on key words within a sentence. For instance, by placing stress on the word “mind” in the sentence “I don’t mind if we go home,” the final ‘d’ in “mind” is emphasized rather than omitted.
Each of these techniques is made better by recording yourself speaking and listening back, focusing on those words with consonant endings. Doing so will provide you with a clearer assessment of the errors in your pronunciation, highlighting your areas for improvement and showcasing the progress you make as you continue to practice.
English vowel phonetics can also cause certain problems for Spanish speakers. While the Spanish language features only 5 vowel sounds, English has up to 16 - this makes it difficult for native Spanish speakers to grasp some of the English vowel sounds which are unlike anything they’ve encountered in their native tongue.
Here are some of the most common vowel pronunciation errors in English for Spanish speakers.
These sounds have no equivalent in Spanish, making them difficult for native Spanish speakers to pronounce when learning English. Spanish speakers will often either replace these sounds with an overemphasized pronunciation of the vowel they see written, or they will replace the vowel sound with the closest sounding vowel that exists within their Spanish phonetics.
To improve your pronunciation of these particular vowels, listen to the vowels in isolation and practice repeating the sounds you hear.
Keep your ears open for those sounds as you converse with other English speakers and as you ingest English media to increase your familiarity with the sounds and more easily incorporate them into your own English pronunciation.
Diphthongs are sounds formed by combining two vowel sounds into a single syllable. Fortunately, diphthongs tend to be less challenging for Spanish speakers learning English, since Spanish has 4 diphthongs very similar to those found in English.
Take the sound EY, for example.
This diphthong is found within words like “today,” “great,” and “make.” It’s also very similar to a diphthong used in Spanish pronunciation, found in words like “reina.”
Complications with diphthongs typically arise due to the contrast between English and Spanish spelling rules. In English, a single vowel sound is often represented by two letters, such as “fruit,” while diphthongs are regularly represented with just a single letter, like “fly.” This can cause confusion for Spanish speakers learning English.
To improve your understanding of diphthongs and how they’re used and pronounced in English, try listening to audiobooks as you read along simultaneously, or listen to news reports and podcasts while reading along with the transcripts. This will train your brain to recognize certain sounds and spelling patterns, improving your understanding of how diphthongs operate within English.
The "O" spelling is tricky because English spelling is not always reliable. In fact, there are FIVE different sounds that an “o” spelling can make in English. The only way to correctly apply this sound is to build phonemic awareness and gain muscle memory.
For example, a Spanish native speaker would pronounce love with a rounded OH sound. Most Americans make the “O” sound in this word like relaxing the corners of their mouth.
This sound is a tough one to master, as it takes time and practice to be able to know which words use which "O" sound, but practice makes progress.
Vowels can be grouped into the categories short and long. “Bit” features the short vowel IH, for example, whereas “beat” uses the long vowel EE.
Vowels can also be categorized as being either tense or lax. Tense vowels occur when the lips are more rounded and the tongue is in a higher position when compared to lax vowels. “Food” includes a tense vowel, while “book” uses a lax vowel.
Distinguishing between short and long vowels can be difficult for Spanish speakers learning English, because Spanish accents tend to feature vowel sounds that are intermediary rather than on either end of those spectrums. In order to master the short/long distinctions, practicing with minimal pairs such as “feel” versus “fill” is essential.
Follow along to Coach Josh as he reviews this type of vowel distinction with native Spanish speaker Luis.
As previously mentioned, Spanish speakers often mispronounce words in English due to their spelling. Since Spanish speakers are used to pronouncing every letter in a word, this can cause pronunciation errors when English words do not follow the same rule.
Let’s look at vowel sounds. In a word like “fruit,” most Spanish speakers will naturally want to pronounce both the U and the I to produce a diphthong sound. In English, however, fruit is pronounced as a single pure vowel.
The same can occur with consonants. Silent consonants occur in words like “island,” “receipt,” and “lamb” (S, P, and B respectively).
In order to avoid this mistake, Spanish speakers learning English should combine their pronunciation practice with reading exercises. By reading a text and simultaneously listening to a corresponding audio, you can pick up on silent spellings and learn to notice patterns. Use a highlighter to highlight those silent letters before reading the text yourself as you practice pronouncing those words correctly.
Native Spanish speakers sometimes encounter problems with word stress in English because just like spelling and pronunciation, Spanish has easy-to-follow rules when it comes to word stress, whereas English is much more on a case-by-case basis.
The word “harvest,” for example, might be mispronounced by a Spanish speaker. Spanish stress rules dictate that the last syllable would be stressed, pronouncing the word as “harvest.” The correct English pronunciation, however, is “harvest.”
Pronouncing word stress correctly in English often comes down to intuition and recognizing patterns, skills which are developed through exposure and repetition. To improve your word stress pronunciation, practice reading sentences aloud and underlining the stressed syllable in each word.
To refine your understanding of English syllable and word stress, check out another student coaching session between Coach Josh and Luis:
This article has covered some of the most common pronunciation mistakes made by Spanish speakers when learning English, as well as some tips to help overcome those challenges. However, as you’re probably well aware, this is easier said than done (irony not intended). There are many more sounds and speech patterns of the General American accent that you will need to learn.
While this may seem like a lot of work, clear English pronunciation is absolutely achievable with ongoing, consistent practice. And the outcome is worth the effort, as learning the American accent can be incredibly impactful for your career.
This is where an app like BoldVoice can help. BoldVoice gives you videos from Hollywood accent coaches and pronunciation tips in order to improve your English accent. It uses AI to ensure that your lesson plan is specifically tailored for you and you alone.
BoldVoice also sends you notifications to make sure that you are practicing every day, and over time, this practice will have you speaking clear English that is easy to understand.