I have been learning Spanish for the past year. I had previously been learning the Portuguese language. To my ear, Spanish and Portuguese are beautiful sounding languages. These languages have rhythm. The vowel sounds at the end of words make the words flow. English has many words that end in consonants. Consonants at the end of words make English sound ‘less fluid’ compared with Spanish and Portuguese. It also means that Spanish speakers have trouble with English words ending in consonants.
Spanish is a Romance language; as such, Spanish has a Latin language origin. Spanish is most closely related to Italian and Portuguese. The romance languages also include French and Romanian. Catlin is also very close to Spanish.
Spanish and English consonants are very similar. Vowel sounds, sentence stress, and word order are different from English. Because of these differences, Spanish learners have difficulty with English pronunciation.
Difficulties in Pronunciation
Spanish learners of English;
- Find it challenging to recognize English vowels.
- Tend to devoice consonants at the end of words.
- Tend to add rhythm to sentences. English speakers tend to be more even with rhythm. The rhythm added to sentences makes it difficult for English speakers to understand Spanish learners of English.
- Use a narrow range of pitch.
Vowels in Spanish are different than English vowels
English as a broader range of vowel sounds.
The vowel sound in ‘sit’ and ‘seat’ would sound the same to Spanish speakers.
For example, ‘New Zealand has beautiful beaches’ might be pronounced, ‘New Zealand has beautiful bitches.’
Other examples of vowel confusion,
- ‘Caught’ might be pronounced ‘Cot.’
- ‘Pool’ might be pronounced ‘Pull.’
- ‘About’ might be pronounced ‘Abit’ or ‘Abet.’
- ‘Bird’ might be pronounced ‘Bert.’
Spanish learners tend to de-voice consonants at the end of words
For example, there is a problem with the ‘th’ sound at the end of words as in ‘mother.‘
Spanish learners tend to pronounce English aspirates without the aspiration
For example, /p/, /t/, /k/, tend to be pronounced without the aspiration
- /p/ would sound more like /b/
- /t/ would sound more like /d/
- /g/ would sound more like /k/
Final consonant sound ‘ish’ tend to be devoiced
making ‘Irish’ sound like ‘Iris.’
The final consonant /m/ tends to be replaced by /n/
So ‘dream’ becomes ‘drean.’
The /z/ sound doesn’t exist in Spanish
The /z/ sound tends to be replaced by /s/. For example, ‘pens’ might sound like ‘pence.’
The /b/ and /v/ sound are very similar in Spanish and get confused
- the words ‘vowels’ and ‘bowels’ can sound similar.
- ‘Sheep’ can sound like ‘jeep’ and ‘pleasure’ can sound like ‘pleshure’ or ‘plesser.’
- /Y/ as in ‘yes’ can sound like /j/, ‘yes’ becomes ‘jes’.
Spanish speakers can pronounce /w/ like /gw/. So ‘would’ sounds like ‘gwud‘ or ‘gud.’
Spanish learners tend to devoice consonant clusters
- ‘breakfast’ can sound like ‘brefas.’
- ‘test’ can sound like ‘tes.’
- ‘wind’ can sound like ‘win.’
- ‘express’ can sound like ‘espres.’
/S/ plus another consonant never exists in Spanish.
- The word ‘Spanish’ becomes ‘Espanic.’
- ‘Stop would be pronounced ‘estop.’
Spanish and English have some similar words, because of the introduction of Old French into English. However, Spanish pronunciation has many differences to English pronunciation. It is because of these differences that Spanish learners need to spend a lot of time practicing pronunciation.
Michael Swan’s book Learner English is a practical reference guide that compares the relevant features of a student’s language with English. These features help teachers to predict and understand the problems their students have. Learner English has chapters focusing on significant issues of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and other errors as well as new chapters covering Korean, Malay/Indonesian and Polish language backgrounds.