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Pronunciation errors made by Spanish learners of English

Introduction

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

For example,

  • 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.’

Conclusion

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.

 

Aaron Skudder

6 Comments

  1. Hello Aaron!
    First off, thank you for your review. It felt good to see that.
    Secondly, I greatly appreciate your honest feedback. I am here to learn and improve as I go and taking in honest feedback from the community is an important part of that. What you had to say made a lot of sense to me.
    After reading your feedback, I went over my posts and saw the mistakes you mentioned, and I am truly grateful because now I can work on them a bit. I’ve also bookmarked your site to refer back to because your content is incredibly informative!
    Much love from your friend,
    Carolanne

    • Thank you for your kind feedback. Carolanne. The content is far from complete. Please check later when I have written more content.

  2. I never realized that English had so many words ending in consonants. Looking at the way the Spanish dance, it is not a surprise that they speak with a rhythm. It must be inborn in them.

    I have heard that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn. I have been learning a bit of Italian and I am battling with the pronunciation there, and looking a the Spanish language, most of the words are not said how they are spelt, a lot like Italian, so I would probably also battle to learn Spanish being English.

    • Hi Michel

      Thank you for your comment.

      Once you have learned a romantic language, it is easy to learn another.  The romantic languages; Spanish, French, Romanian, Italian have the same basic rules of grammar.

      I found that Spanish is pronounced how it is spelled.  It is easy once you learn the rules of pronunciation.

  3. I can totally relate to what you are saying. I am a French speaker and learning English for me was a bit difficult on the speaking part. I could write fine but reading and speaking was quite a challenge.

    A bit like Spanish speaker we don’t pronounce the last consonant of a word, they are mostly silent. So, something like wind, would naturally be pronounced”win””. Spending time with native speaker help me a lot and now I can even distinguish American English from British English, it fun to see how one language can be so different.

    What can help pronunciation is practice, but what if you don’t have some nearby to talk to? Do you know of any online platform that can help people learning a new language to talk with native speaker? I would love to learn another language.

    Thanks

    • Thank you for your comment.  The best way to improve conversational language is to practice with a native speaker.  We can offer one-on-one tuition.  Otherwise, there are tutors available on Freelancer.

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