If Spanish is your second (or third language), you understand how hard it can be to go by unnoticed. You can spend years learning idioms or memorizing conjugations and still sound like a foreigner. Having a ‘thick accent’ can sometimes derail attention and stir up insecurities. But do not worry, you are not alone!
Being able to master Spanish’s pronunciation is a hard thing to do. Luckily for you, I have come up with a series of tips to help you through it:
• Roll your ‘Rs’
• Learn to sound vowels
• Break down words
• Lose the ‘buzz’
• Soften your ‘T’s’
• Beware of accent marks!
Below we will go over each of these hacks for you to have a better understanding, improve your pronunciation, and get rid of your accent.
Roll your ‘Rs’
The letter ‘R’ is probably one of the hardest letters when it comes to pronunciation. Not because it is unusual, but because in Spanish, the ‘R’ has two different sounds. The ‘RR’ or the ‘hard R’ usually takes some practice. Why? Simple. Everyone knows about the rolled ‘R,’ but not everyone understands how to sound it.
The good news is that the ‘soft R,’ which is easier to pronounce, is much more common than the tricky version. However, not being able to pronounce simple words likes ‘rojo’ or ‘carro’ can instantly give you away. Thus, to learn the proper tongue placement and strengthen the muscle, practice saying the words butter or ladder over and over again very quickly.
Another quirky, but useful exercise, is to channel your inner tiger. Yes, that is right! Try imitating the ‘Grrrrr’ sound a tiger makes; this will help you loosen your tongue and position it correctly.
This video is from a Russian speaker, but the sound of the r is the same and I think it gives tips of a great quality:
Learn to sound vowels
Spanish vowels usually make up 50% (or more) of a word. But, unlike English vowels, in Spanish, vowels have only one sound. Hence, if you learn to ‘sound’ them, it will be easier for you to pronounce words correctly.
Take a look at this ‘cheat sheet’:
• A is pronounced like the ‘a’ in father
• E is pronounced like the ‘e’ in wet
• I is pronounced like the ‘ee in see
• O is pronounced like the ‘o’ in no
• U is pronounced like the ‘oo’ in tool
Remember to open your mouth wide when pronouncing them and make sure you are sounding each vowel in the word. Plus, if you really want to blend in, try always to switch the emphasis from consonants to vowels.
Break down words
If you think you have mastered the basics but cannot seem to get rid of your native accent, try breaking down the words. Aiming to pronounce entire words (or sentences) correctly is more complicated than splitting each term out into syllables. By pronouncing each syllable individually, you can spot where you are making mistakes, and it is easier to correct them.
Another helpful trick is to record yourself. Listen carefully to how you are pronouncing each syllable and identify troublesome individual sounds. Keep in mind Spanish native speakers often talk really fast! Thus, this kind of exercise can help you learn to link your words.
Lose the ‘buzz’
Much like learning to pronounce ‘Rs,’ learning to differentiate how to sound the ‘S,’ or ‘Z’ can be very hard at first. More so, if you take into consideration that the letter Z makes the ‘S’ sound in most Latin American countries, while in Spain, it sounds more like an English ‘TH.’
The best way to understand what I am saying is by listening to music. Choose any song of Enrique Iglesias (a Spanish-born artist) and compare the ‘S’ sound to that of any song by Maluma or Luis Fonsi (Latin American artists.)
However, it does not matter where in the world you are, what you will never hear in Spanish is a ‘Z’ that sounds like it does in the English word buzz. Thus, lose the buzz!
Soften your ‘T’s’
In the English language, the letter ‘T’ has a very specific pronunciation. In Spanish, on the other hand, this letter is much lighter and sounds softer.
For instance, try saying the following phrase out loud: I saw two fantastic tigers. Pay attention to how your tongue touches the roof of your mouth when pronouncing the ‘Ts.’ In Spanish, ‘T’s’ are sounded differently. When sounding the letter, try to press the tip of your tongue against the top of your front teeth. As a result, you will end up with a softer ‘T’ sound.
Now, try doing precisely that while reading this sentence in Spanish: Te quiero como al tequila. Repeat this phrase as many times as you see fit to get used to the pronunciation.
Beware of accent marks!
Accent marks in Spanish can be a whole new world for English speakers. So, to truly understand them, you need to know why some words are accentuated, and others are not. As a ‘rule of thumb’ in Spanish, you will always stress the second-to-last syllable of a word. Words that end in consonants other than ‘N’ and ‘S’ are the only exceptions. In these cases, you stress the last syllable of the word.
Thus, any words that stray from this pattern will conveniently have an accent. Pay close attention to these marks and learn which syllable to stress based on their accents — this will make the difference between perfect pronunciation and utter confusion.
There you have it! Six useful tips and hacks to help you better pronounce words ins Spanish. As always, I recommend that you take the time to actively listen and engage in conversations (even if you feel like you are butchering the phrase). If you do not have time to do a language exchange you can take my Spanish conversation class.
The best way to get rid of native accents is by practicing. So, invest a few minutes per day in implementing these few quick fixes. If you do, I am sure that by the time you go on your next trip, you will be mistaken for a native Spanish speaker — or at least people will not be able to tell where you are from!