How to Improve Your Pronunciation in Spanish?

Yes, you can improve your pronunciation in Spanish.

I have been looking for how I can sound like a native Spanish speaker too and found a lot of useful tips and information. Now, every time I record myself, I can hear that I’m improving. In addition, I can understand native Spanish speakers better since I know how words and sentences are pronounced!

NOTE: This may be a long post. Skip the steps you already know. If you are a beginner? Don’t try to apply every step at once but separate the steps over a couple of weeks. Just take your time. 

Tl;dr If you want to improve your pronunciation in Spanish, make sure that:

  • You focus on the pronunciation of the Spanish alphabet
  • You know how words are linked together
  • You know how to apply intonation
  • You practice frequently

The pronunciation of the Spanish alphabet

The Spanish alphabet contains 30 letters which are pronounced differently than in English or in any other language you already know. If you don’t know the pronunciation of each letter in Spanish exactly, make sure you watch the video below.

Some of the important things to remember, based on the pronunciation mistakes I and my friends make, in Spanish:

  • The letter b and v sound pretty similar.
  • When the letter D isn’t at the beginning of the word, it is pronounced like a soft t
  • The letter H isn’t pronounced in Spanish
  • The letter R may be hard to pronounce. This video may be useful.
  • When you pronounce the letter R to strong, it will sound like a RR. Pero will sound like perro.

Spanish sentences

Understanding how sentences are pronounced is an important step to improve your pronunciation in Spanish. If you understand this, you will see that Spanish actually isn’t a fast spoken language. 

The only thing you have to is to understand how the words are linked and which syllables are stressed in Spanish.

Linking of words in Spanish

In English, every word is pronounced just one by one. We hear the spaces between every word. Maybe that’s not completely true… but we recognize every word in a sentence. We know where a word starts and where it ends.

This works differently in Spanish.

For example, te he contado is pronounced like tee-con-ta-do and un idea is pronounced like u-ni-dea

Do you want to know how this exactly works? Watch the video below.

How to divide syllables?

Now, you understand how the Spanish sentences are pronounced. But how do you connect long words in sentences on each other?

Let’s use this sentence as an example ‘estoy comprando un instrumento’. This literally means ‘I’m buying an instrument’.

You can mess up your pronunciation by saying es-toyco-mpra-(…) or est-oycom-pra-(…).

As you can see, you should understand how you can break down the words into syllables. Let’s take a look at the explanation in the video below.

So, according to the explanation in the video, the sentence will be divided into the following syllables:

es-toy-com-pran-do-un-in-stru-men-to

Linking this together makes es-toy-com-pran-dounin-stru-men-to

But hey, how do people distinguish and recognize words in a sentence if they talklikethiswithoutanyspacebetweenwords?’.

What syllables are stressed?

In Spanish, people whom you’re having a conversation with will recognize words by its stressed syllables. Every Spanish word contains one stressed syllable.

There are three rules you should keep in mind:

  1. If the word ends in a vowel, n or s, it’s stressed on the next-to-last syllable
  2. If the word ends in a consonant that’s not an n or s, it’s stressed on the last syllable
  3. If a word is not stressed in either of these two ways, the word will have an accent mark on it to indicate where you should place the stress

The following syllables are stressed in our example: es-toy-com-pran-doun-instru-men-to. Do you see how clear the sentence becomes?

Let’s take a look at the video below for a detailed explanation!

Now, you know how the pronunciation of sentences in Spanish works. In addition, you’re finally able to sing along with Spanish songs! Hooray!

Improve your intonation, improve your pronunciation in Spanish

Intonation is very important in a language. It affects the way the receiver interprets the message. We all know how this works in our native language. Most of the used intonations are similar to the ones we have in our native language. For some reason, some people don’t apply this when they just start learning a language.

In Spanish, intonation can change the difference of sentences.

For example, ‘Are you tired?’ and ‘You are tired’ are exactly the same sentence in Spanish: ‘Estás cansado’. If you want to know whether someone is tired or not, you have to pronounce it with a high tone at the end. Otherwise, you’ll not receive any answer to your question.

Another example, when you want to say that something is delicious, you also have to change the intonation of your sentence. Otherwise, you may sound sarcastic.

There are a couple of Youtube videos you can watch to understand the intonation (the link will open in another tab):

Focus on one specific accent

Spanish is spoken in 20 different countries. The vocabulary, expressions, and pronunciation of words may differ per country.

You can guess whether a native speaker is from Spain or Latin America by the way they pronounce gracias. The letter c is pronounced like the English th in Spain. Latin Americans pronounce it like an s.

Argentinians and Uruguayans distinguish themselves from other Latin Americans by pronouncing the letter ll as sh/zh. You can hear this when they pronounce words like llamar (to call).

There are more numerous examples like this.

It’s important to focus on one specific accent if you want to improve your pronunciation in Spanish. This way, you won’t get confused and you can look for specific websites, videos, and podcasts to improve your pronunciation.

Your decision can be based on the country you want to live or visit, the people you’re practicing with and the materials you use to learn Spanish. In my case, I started learning Spanish on Duolingo. The courses on Duolingo are based on Mexican Spanish. In addition, most of my practice partners are from Mexico. So for me, it was easier to focus on the Mexican Spanish accent.

Other tips to improve your pronunciation in Spanish

I know, it is a long post and it may look like you have to learn too many things before you can improve your pronunciation in Spanish. But there are some useful tips you should know about.

Listen to native speakers

Listening to native speakers will help you understand better how words and sentences are pronounced and how intonation is applied. You will be able to speak in their accent easier this way.

Listening to your practice partners, to Spanish singers, and Spanish podcasts may help you. In addition, you should watch Spanish tv series and movies.

Practice your pronunciation

Don’t be afraid to practice. Pronounce sentences, record them and listen. Try to understand how you pronounce words and how you can improve it. Compare your pronunciation with the native Spanish speaker’s pronunciation.

You can also ask native Spanish speakers for their opinion about your pronunciation. I ask them by using the application HiNative.

Focus on non-verbal expressions

We also communicate with non-verbal expressions. However, a study has shown that we show less non-verbal expression when we talk in our non-native language.

Your message might not be understood as you hoped.

For example, when you say someone’s self-made cake is delicious with a neutral face, that people may not believe you.

You can control you non-verbal expressions by filming yourself when you talk in another language or by looking in the mirror while speaking.

Use audio materials

When I was learning English at the secondary school, I only learned words and sentences out of books. I never heard their pronunciation. It was hard to improve my pronunciation afterward (it’s still not good! What a shame!).

So I recommend you to use as many audio materials as possible when you learn new words and expressions. It’s easier when you learn a language by the way that it’s pronounced, so you don’t have to think about which syllable is stressed in a conversation.

 


Featured image by Nicolas Raymond via Stockvault

Kamila is a polyglot who taught herself over 5 languages using social media and apps. She created Polyglot’s Diary where she enjoys sharing her tips and experiences. Head over to her Instagram profile and YouTube Channel to follow her progress.

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