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:

hit/heat

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

hut/hat/heart

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

good/food

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

world

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:

British English ‘r’ is silent at the end of a syllable (non-rhotic), Spanish speakers pronounce these ‘r’s because Spanish is rhotic:

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:

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/:

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:

8. Voicing

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. 

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By | 2016-10-19T15:53:38+00:00 December 3rd, 2013|Accents, International Accents, Pronunciation, Teaching|27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Elena February 5, 2015 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the article. I found it very useful. However, I would like to point out that in Spanish we do have voiced consonants at the end of syllables: Madrid, salud, juventud, edad… Some Spanish speaking people tend to mispronounce this kind of endings but the correct pronunciation does include the voicing of these sounds.

    • Joseph Hudson October 19, 2016 at 3:17 pm - Reply

      Hi Elena, thanks for pointing this out – it’s true that not all Spanish speakers would devoice the final in Spanish, though it is a common error for Spanish speakers in English.

    • Jorge April 7, 2017 at 5:07 pm - Reply

      There is no such a thing as correct pronunciation. I’m Andalusian and do not usually pronounce the ending of the words. Also, the very people from Madrid pronounce ‘Madriz’. Please, avoid telling native speakers they are mispronouncing in their own language, it’s linguistically incorrect. 🙂

  2. Aine Wade February 1, 2016 at 1:23 pm - Reply

    Fashion is pronunced fashen not fashiON ( :

    • Joseph Hudson March 2, 2016 at 11:16 am - Reply

      /fæʃən/ or /fæʃn/ as the /n/ could be syllabic.

  3. The Language Monk May 7, 2016 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    Thank you for doing this.

    Some of the pronunciation samples do not work =( ( maybe I don’t have the right plug-ins in my browser)

    Also, I got what you meant by pointing out that we ( native Spanish speaker here) pronounce all these words with the same vowel when in reality each one has its distinct vowel:

    [a] hat heart hut
    [u] good food hurt
    [o] pot port
    [i] fit feet

    It would have been interesting, however, to get the real vowel used in each word, i.e. Hat /æ/ Heart /ɑː/ Hut /ʌ/ to reinforce your point. I am sure one can clearly hear this on the audio sample, but since it wasn’t working for me, I thought it’d be nice to have some visual confirmation that it is indeed an entirely different vowel.

    Cheers!

    • Joseph Hudson October 19, 2016 at 3:23 pm - Reply

      Hi Language Monk, thanks for your comment – the article was completely updated on 20/9 so hopefully the audio works for you now. You can hear a Spanish version on each audio track too.

  4. e pg September 26, 2016 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    Perhaps tips like this would help :
    ʌ = mouth like an ‘o’ saying an ‘a’

    • Joseph Hudson October 19, 2016 at 3:27 pm - Reply

      Yes – I think there could be some advantage to using the sounds that a learner already has as a reference point, but it can lead to confusion, especially when it comes to spellings. For most learners I’ve worked with, I’ve found the best way is to learn the vowel grid and work on each area separately /ʌ, ɑː, æ/, /ɪ, iː/ etc. so the learner learns an entirely new set of sounds. There’s more info about this on this post: https://pronunciationstudio.com/what-is-accent-reduction/

  5. Kevin October 23, 2016 at 2:41 am - Reply

    I think the voicing part depends a lot on the person and the Spanish they grow used to. A lot of people do de-voice, that’s something I experience first hand (currently living in Caracas, Venezuela) but it mostly happens with young people that are considered “lazy” when it comes to the way they speak the language.

    At some academic events that I have participated in this becomes less common and usually is frowned upon. I’m really liking the way you’ve explained the errors listed in your post, and the sound clip sure helps a ton!

    We have also developed a guide of our own over at MyDailySpanish (https://mydailyspanish.com/spanish-pronunciation-guide/) for those learning spanish to minimize the errors they will come across their learning journey.

    I look forward to more engaging content from yourself. A good spanish pronounciation is no easy task (even for us natives!) but the more high quality resources available the better.

  6. Andrea October 25, 2016 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    I wonder where the guy doing the Spanish accent version is from.

  7. israel olalla October 26, 2016 at 6:10 pm - Reply

    Hey, you can add, bear, beard and beer

  8. Monique October 27, 2016 at 7:16 pm - Reply

    I don’t think it is helpful to hear the Spanish guy because it sounds as if he is still saying some of the words wrong which may make a student think it is right. Often the case with my boyfriend.

    • Ed November 15, 2016 at 4:06 pm - Reply

      He is saying purposely wrong as in how a Spanish person would say. The point is so you can hear the difference with the actual (correct) English pronunciation

  9. carlos October 31, 2016 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    Hi,

    I laughed really loud with some audios. I think you guys recorded an A1 speaker cause it was really hilarious in some audios, no offense intended.

    I’m from Andalusia and we do leave out the end consonants but we also make a lot of glottal sounds, so at least we can articulate the glottal T properly (or mostly). 🙂

    For the time being, I’d say I’m brushing out, again, many of these errors in special those related to intonation.

    Great book and great post indeed.

    Cheers and keep up the good work. 🙂

  10. Nuria November 15, 2016 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    I will be interested in this course!

  11. Montse November 19, 2016 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    I have found it very usufull. Thanks for taking interest in the subject. I also have a question. In English as in Spanish there’s different pronunciation for the same word but all are correct. Isn’t it? Alk depends the county people comes from. All are dialects of the same language.

    For example, up north people don’t pronounce HUT /hʌt/ the same applies for words like mushroom pub mum… they are pronounced more like Spanish do so something to consider it’s where people comes from. Isn’t it correct? So if we say hut like spanish do we wouldn’t be making an error. Am i wrong?
    My question comes as part of my experience as i lived half up north and now back to south of England some people believes i can not say it properly.

    Thanks anyway i found it really interesting

  12. Holly Garcia Garcia November 25, 2016 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    Do you have a suggestion on how to teach Spanish speakers the TH sound as in 13 or three or there?

  13. black legend December 9, 2016 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    English and French are ridiculous languages. They write one thing and read another different thing. Why don’t they do the same as spanish speakers? It’d be much easier pronounce english with spanish sounds.

  14. Yamimar January 3, 2017 at 9:46 pm - Reply

    I’ve also noted that in the British accent the r is not pronounced in some words, for instance if yo say Liverpool, sister, farther, Everton, Arsenal etc.

  15. Alex Sansot January 22, 2017 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Hi, I really liked this article. Just wanted to point out that some native speakers in Spanish are not completely rhotic. And sentences like: ¿Qué vas a hacer mañana? can sound like: ¿Qué vas a hacé mañana?, and this also happens in words like: comerlo, hacerlo, verlo, which sound like: comelo, hacelo, velo. And yes, in this case verlo and velo could also be homophones.

  16. Simon Francis Francis Stevens January 23, 2017 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    ‘Thistle’ and ‘Puddle’ were really hard for my Nicaraguan ex to pronounce !

    Wouldn’t it be soooo much easier to teach International (ie. American ) English and International (ie. Mexican, Central American or Colombian) Spanish to language students ? So, no obscure words like ‘lorry’ that nobody in the Anglophone world uses apart from the Limeys, and no lisping of ‘c’, ‘s’ or ‘z’ and none of that ‘vosotros sois’ malarkey that nobody other than los Peninsulares uses !

  17. TheMoonRaven February 14, 2017 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Heyo! I am writing a story, and I want to try to write the accent [not accent marks]. Are there any letters I should replace and put another letter in for it? Such as for a German accent, you might put a “v” for a “w.”

    • Gonzalo February 21, 2017 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      You don’t have to write accents if you can’t. They only Mark the syllabe you have to stress, but the sound doesn’t change at all.

  18. Italia March 1, 2017 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    Great article ! Very useful
    Thanks

  19. Josetxu March 12, 2017 at 9:44 am - Reply

    Great post.
    Also I would say, as another common error, that Spanish tend to put an “E” before the “S” in words beginning with “S” followed by a consonant, ie. Espanish, Eschool, Estress, instead of Spanish, school, stress.

  20. Richard April 2, 2017 at 3:24 pm - Reply

    Spanish, like Welsh, and many other languages, is basically phonetic; I.e. Each letter or combination always carries the same sound (dialects differ, but are consistent nevertheless). English is anything but phonetic. Two, too and to for example, four and for, bare and bear, there are thousands of them. It’s the main difficulty for non english speakers in learning to speak it. Accents in Spanish normally come on the penultimate syllable, unless marked with an accent when written. However language is a live idiom and is always, and always has been, evolving. That’s what makes the subject so fascinating

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