10 English Pronunciation Errors by Spanish Speakers
If your mother tongue is Spanish, you may find certain sounds in English more difficult than others. Here we present to you the most common errors made by Spanish-speaking students at Pronunciation Studio (audio is firstly in GB English then with a Spanish accent):
1. Vowel Sound Positions
Spanish uses 5 vowel sound positions in pronunciation, GB English uses 12 vowel sound positions – so this is a key area for Spanish speakers to learn. The most important area is making the right shape with the mouth, rather than focussing on the length of the sound:
Spanish has just one high front vowel [i] and Spanish speakers often use this vowel for both the /ɪ/ vowel in HIT and the /iː/ vowel in HEAT. One ‘i’ in English is normally the lower /ɪ/ vowel:
hit / heat
Did this thing win?
Spanish speakers often make the vowels in HUT /hʌt/, HAT /hæt/ and HEART /hɑːt/ into the Spanish /a/ – they should be made in different positions in English:
hut / hat / heart
I love Matt’s car.
Spanish /u/ is made with the tongue at the back of the mouth, English /uː/ in FOOD is more central, and English /ʊ/ in GOOD is more open and central (note also that the spelling < oo > can produce both sounds in English):
/uː/ food, soon, new
/ʊ/ good, cook, put
I’ll cook some good food soon.
The central, neutral vowel /ɜː/ in HURT, EARLY, BIRD, WORSE, PREFER is often mispronounced by Spanish speakers because there is no similar vowel sound in the Spanish, and the spellings are confusing:
‘ir’ bird, shirt, sir
‘or’ worse, worth, world
‘ur’ hurt, turn, burn
‘er/ear’ prefer, heard, early
2. Weak Vowel: schwa /ə/
The most common sound in English is the weak vowel, ‘schwa’ /ə/. The problem is that this sound can be spelt with any vowel – A, E, I, O, U and it should never be stressed, which is difficult for Spanish speakers who normally stress every syllable:
about tighten lentil today column
3. /r/, silent < r >
Spanish /r/ involves tapping or trilling the tongue on the gum, English /r/ does not, it’s a smooth approximant:
rock red arrow try
British English ‘r’ is silent at the end of a syllable (non-rhotic), Spanish speakers pronounce these ‘r’s because Spanish is rhotic:
work court her pour father
4. /v/ vs. /b/
In English /v/ is a voiced fricative using teeth and lip, Spanish speakers tend to replace it with a plosive /b/ or an approximant sound using both lips:
Next vacation I’d love to visit the river.
5. /ʃ/ vs /s/
Spanish speakers don’t tend to pull the tongue back when making the /ʃ/ sound, so it sounds more like /s/:
/ʃ/ push sharp fashion
6. /h/ & silent < h >
English /h/ is a glottal fricative – it’s the sound you make when steaming up a mirror. Spanish speakers may replace this with a velar fricative:
/h/ horse heavy ahead
The ‘h’ in little function words like HAVE, HE, HIS, HER, HIM is often silent in connected speech, but Spanish speakers may put it in:
I must have forgotten it.
What’s her name?
7. Aspiration: /p,t,k/
In English, the plosive sounds /p,t,k/ are normally aspirated (a big explosion of air), but they never are in Spanish:
Park the car in town.
Spanish speakers often de-voice (/d/=/t/, /b/=/p/, /v/=/f/) at the end of syllables, as the distinction is not made in Spanish:
bad cod job love
The spelling ‘s’ is often pronounced as voiced /z/ at the end of syllables in English, Spanish speakers tend to always pronounce it as voiceless /s/:
cheese was news lose
9. Sentence Stress
Spanish is a syllable-timed language so you stress every syllable, whereas English stress-time involves choosing (normally only one or two) certain syllables to stress, with everything else becoming weak and/or shorter:
I’d like to have a look at the report.
What do you think about the weather?
10. Falling Intonation
GB English uses a wide pitch range and high falling tones are very common, whereas Spanish uses more rising tones:
It’s very ↘good.
Do you fancy going for a ↘drink tonight?
Pronunciation Studio provides pronunciation training for advanced English learners in London and online (via Skype) – see here for full details.
Note: this article was updated on 20th September 2016.