The top 5 English pronunciation challenges for Spanish native speakers

Did you know that Javier Bardem learned English by primarily listening to AC/DC?

And that Salma Hayek’s career initially stalled in the US because of her accent?

Speaking clear English can significantly impact your professional career.

So if you’re not a huge fan of heavy metal and want to improve your English skills so that you can advance your professional life, we got you.  

Here are some of the biggest pronunciation challenges that you will have to conquer, according to BoldVoice and Hollywood accent coach Eliza Simpson.

The Top Challenges for Spanish speakers in English

1. The pronunciation of “h” spellings

This is one of the trickiest sounds for Spanish native speakers in English. In the Spanish version of  the “h” sound, you can hear some contact between the back of the tongue and the roof of the mouth.

However, the majority of English speakers would use a different sound for their “h”, with a stream of air coming directly from the throat and with less contact. It sounds like you’re trying to make the “a” sound but whispering, so no voice comes through.

Improving the clarity of this sound will help you communicate more clearly, starting with simple words like “hi” and “hello.”

2. Nasal 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.

3. The American “r” sound

The American r, or molar r, is very specific to American English and not found in many other languages. It’s called molar because the sides of the tongue are touching, or bracing, the molar teeth.

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.

4. The pronunciation of the “o” spelling.

The “o” sound 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 that 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 “uh”, 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.

5. The distinction between the “i” sounds

There are two different “i” sounds: one is a long “ee” sound and one is a shorter “ih” sound.

An example of the right usage would be saying the long “i” for the word “see” and “heat” and using the shorter “ih” sound for words like “sit” or “hit”.

Again, English spelling does not help, as there are no rules for when to apply the two different sounds. This makes it really easy to mix up the two. It takes memorization and practice in order to master this difference, but the first step is recognizing and hearing this difference at all.

How You can Improve Your Pronunciation

These 5 key sounds are only a few of the phonetic differences between Spanish and English. In this video, BoldVoice coach Eliza Simpson breaks down all of these five sounds and two bonus tricky sounds for Spanish native speakers in English: the diphthongs, and the “long e” sound.

While this may seem like a lot of work, clearer English is absolutely achievable with ongoing, consistent practice. And the outcome is worth the effort, as clearer English 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.

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