5 Spanish pronunciation errors that native English speakers make

5 Spanish pronunciation errors that native English speakers make

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez
December 15, 2020

Teaching Spanish is delicate. Native Spanish-speaking instructors want students to speak correctly, but there is grammar and vocabulary to pick up first. If a student has a strong accent, it gets overlooked. In the #languagelearning world, we know that success is important for motivation. Too much correction at an early stage can feel bad. We count on beginning Spanish speakers to improve their pronunciation down the road. We have talked about a good Spanish accent before. Whether you learn Spanish at home or take online Spanish lessons, today’s post will help you to correct mistakes.

5 common Spanish pronunciation mistakes

1. Thinking pronunciation doesn’t matter

For native English speakers who study Spanish online, it’s important to recognise that pronunciation carries weight in the Spanish-speaking world. It conveys origin, class, education, and more. I may be fluent, but street vendors in Mexico City can tell I am not a local by my foreign accent. Communication is the priority. Accent is secondary, but don’t be fooled, pronunciation is still important. If you plan to get into an immersive experience, your goal should be to sound as close to a native Spanish speaker as possible. Here are specific things you can work on. 

2. Stressing the wrong syllable in Spanish

Native English speakers are all over the place with their vocal stress. Highlighting the proper syllable in Spanish follows two basic rules. First, if a word ends with a vowel or the letters s or n, stress the penultimate (next-to-last) syllable.

  • cansada (tired), nos conocimos ayer (we met each other yesterday)

Second, if a word ends in a consonant other than s or n, stress the final syllable.

  • mitad (half), color (colour)

If you see an accent mark, forget the rules. Simply stress the syllable with the accented vowel.

  • halcón (falcon), vámonos (let’s go), gané (I won)

You will most notice accent marks in the imperativo (mandates) and pretérito (simple past) tenses in Spanish.

3. Always using the hard G sound

Native English speakers default to the hard G sound because it’s closest to English, but that’s incorrect. We talked about J and G before, but there are actually four main pronunciations of the Spanish G.

Hard G: Before the vowels a and o you have g in “gate”:

  • gol (goal), garganta (throat), gané (I won)

Soft G: Before the vowels e and i it’s like the h in “house”: 

  • geografía (geography), jengibre (ginger, here the j and g sound identical)

Hard G Dipthong: For gui and gue use a hard G:

  • guía (guide), guerra (war)

Soft G Dipthong: For gua and güe the soft G becomes very smooth, like w as in “wearing”:

  • guacamole (avocado dip), vergüenza (shame)

4. Not rolling the R

Native English speakers have a hard time rolling the R. It’s not only incorrect to pronounce r the same as rr, but it can cause serious confusion. 

  • Me gusta comer, pero no tengo hambre. (I like to eat, but I am not hungry.)
  • Me gusta comer peRRo. No tengo hambre. (I like to eat dog. I am not hungry.) Hmmm.  

Repeat pero (but) and perro (dog) until you can hear a clear distinction between them. Need to hear them properly first? Listen to Spanish-language songs and mimic how they are different.

5. Using English pronunciation on cognates

Native English speakers often fall back onto their comfort zone, which is English pronunciation. Cognates are words that are spelled similarly in both languages. Do your best to not get lazy. Pronounce all words in Spanish using your best Spanish pronunciation.

  • chaqueta (jacket, start with ch not j, focus on Spanish a as in “ah”)
  • hospital (hospital, omit the silent h)

At Lingoda, we always say that the best way to learn Spanish is through immersion. My US-born father learned Spanish while living in Chile during Air Force duty in the 1960s. As a result, his accent and pronunciation developed naturally. Throughout his life, strangers meeting him would say, “You you sure don’t look Chilean, but you SOUND Chilean. How is that possible?” Wouldn’t you love to get a comment like that from a native Spanish-speaker someday? Keep working on your pronunciation and you will have an impressive accent too. 

Are you ready to work on your Spanish pronunciation? Enrol in a 7-day free trial with Lingoda’s native speaking Spanish teachers today.