Have you ever wondered where accents come from? And why people from another culture can spend so long studying English and still have a hard time being understood? In this post, I’m going to focus on the Spanish language and how to improve American English spoken by Hispanics.
Every language has its own set of pronunciation rules, and most people learn those rules subconsciously just by hearing other people speak the language all of the time. As you were growing up, you learned the rules to your native language, Spanish, without even realizing it.
When we learn a new language, we try to apply those same pronunciation rules to the second language, often without even being aware that we are doing it. But, since every language has a different set of rules, this often leads to a communication breakdown. And the misuse of these rules is what causes you to speak with an accent.
So, if you grew up speaking Spanish but later learned to speak English, you may find that other English speakers have a hard time understanding you. For example, if you need a ride to work, you might call a taxi. Because Spanish speakers often substitute p for b, here is what could happen:
“I need a cap to go to work.”
“What kind of hat do you need?”
“No, no, a cap to ride in to get to work.”
“Oh, you mean a cab, like a taxi.”
You may know English very well, but it can be frustrating when people still misunderstand you. You can know thousands of English words, apply the grammar rules, and even understand the jokes and expressions, but if you don’t know the subtle rules of sound pronunciation, people will not understand what you are saying.
While each person’s speech is unique, there are some common pronunciation differences for many Hispanic speakers. Here are some sounds that are commonly mispronounced by Hispanic speakers of English and tips for helping you improve your spoken English:
1. saying an S sound instead of a Z sound
Many Hispanic speakers use an s sound for a z sound. S and Z use the exact same tongue and mouth shape; the difference is in the voicing. The S sound is produced without the voice, but the Z sound requires the voice. To feel the difference, put your hand on your throat and try saying S-s-s-s. You should not feel anything. Now try saying Z-z-z-z. You should feel a vibration in your throat. Practice saying words like Sue and zoo.
2. saying a K sound instead of a G sound
This is a very similar issue to the one above. K and G sound are both produced in the back of the throat, but the K is unvoiced and the G is voiced. Try saying K-k-k and then G-g-g-g. You should feel the tickle or vibration on your throat when you say the G sound. Practice saying coat and goat.
3. saying a P sound instead of a B sound
Once again, this is a difference in voicing. P and B are both made by pushing the lips together and releasing them. P is made without using the voice while B uses the voice. It is important to hear the difference because one letter sound can change the whole meaning of the sentence, as in the example above with cap and cab.
4. Saying a B sound for a V sound.
The V sound is made by placing the top teeth on the lower lip, turning on the voice, and blowing. If you put both lips together and blow, you get a B sound instead of the V. Practice with words like very and berry.
5. Saying an F sound for a V sound.
If you put the top teeth on the lower lip and blow without turning on the voice, you will make an F sound. To make the V sound, you need to turn on your voice. Practice by saying fine and vine.
These are a few of the most common sounds that Hispanic speakers of English often mispronounce. Practicing these sounds will help improve the American English spoken by you and your friends.
If you want more personalized help to improve your spoken English, please take my free accent screening at www.losemyaccent.com.