Want to know how to pronounce the trickiest, longest words in Spanish? Words like internacionalización and ornitorrinco, or even tongue twisters like tres tristes tigres tragan trigo en un trigal?
There are some genuinely hard words to pronounce in Spanish. Here’s my breakdown of 15 of the hardest words in my experience, both teaching and learning— plus a tip I use to pronounce any word that gives me trouble.
- What is THE hardest Spanish word to pronounce?
- 15 hard words to pronounce in Spanish (in my experience)
- Common difficult words:
- Words with the RR sound:
- Words with the NR sound:
- Words or phrases with the LR sound:
- Words or phrases with the SR sound:
- Words or phrases with the NGE sound:
What is THE hardest Spanish word to pronounce?
In my opinion, it’s: ronronear (to purr). To make it even trickier, add an L sound before it, as in él ronronea – he (a cat, I assume) is purring.
15 hard words to pronounce in Spanish (in my experience)
Common difficult words:
Ex: refrigerador, problema
These are the first two words that came to mind when I started thinking about hard words to pronounce. Some might be harder, but these are very common, so it pays to practice them.
- How to practice: My favorite technique to practice longer, tough words like these is one called back-chaining, which you can read more in detail about in the next section of this article.
Words with the RR sound:
Ex: ferrocarril, ocurrir
In Spanish pronunciation, there’s lower hanging fruit than the R. If you struggle with it, focus first on your vowels — they’re the most important piece of the puzzle.
- How to practice: The simplest way I know of the practice the RR is to separate the two sounds, then gradually move them together. So ‘carro’ becomes ‘car…ro’. Repeat it 100 more times and it’ll start to come out right 🙂 If it doesn’t, don’t be hard on yourself. The rolled r is one of the hardest sounds for Spanish speaking children to pronounce.
Words with the NR sound:
Ex: sonrojar, ronronear
The N+R sound is the one that took the longest to come out naturally for me. It’s a challenge to move from an N (which is at the front of your mouth in Spanish) to an R (which is in the middle-back of the roof of your mouth).
- How to practice: I eventually figured out that by pronouncing the NR somewhere between an English D & T, I could make it sound more or less accurate. Another way would be to take a short breath between the N and the R, as in “son…rojar” or “son..reír”. With enough repetition, it will start coming out smoothly.
Words or phrases with the LR sound:
Ex: alrededor, milrayas, al restaurante
Similar to the N+R consonant cluster, L+R sounds are hard for lots of Spanish learners to pronounce.
- How to practice: To practice the word alrededor, for example, I pronounced it slowly, with a slight space between the L and the R. Then I practiced about 50 times over a few days, and eventually it started coming out without all that effort.
Words or phrases with the SR sound:
Ex: desregular, Israel, los recuerdos
Notice any trends here? When an R follows a consonant, it’s often tricky (at least for English speakers). This sound slows down many native speakers, too, which might be what gave rise to the many accents that “swallow the S” in these situations — pronouncing the above words more like dehregular or Ihrael.
- How to practice: Even though many native speakers skip the S, you still want to learn how to pronounce this tricky consonant cluster. Practice it by giving yourself a slight pause (or a tiny breath) in between the S and the R. Say, “Is…rael” enough times and before long it will click.
Words or phrases with the NGE sound:
Ex: ingeniería, ingerir, en general
Ingeniería is one of the words that took me the longest to confidently say in conversation. And a lot of that has to do with the I+NGE sound.
- How to practice: The NGE sound occurs almost entirely in the back of your throat (similar to the ING sound in English). Practice saying ING, exaggerating until you create a humming sound.
The GE sound that follows comes out sounding like a soft version of the German CH. Like with several of the examples above, try separating the two tricky sounds: ING and GE, giving yourself a pause between In…geniería, and working your way up to pronouncing it as one word.
How to pronounce tricky Spanish words correctly
Many times, pronouncing a difficult word in Spanish comes down to isolating the challenging sound and practicing it on its own. So if you struggle with the S+R sound, take the phrase los restaurantes and practice just “los..re” 20-30 times. This will get your tongue used to producing these new sounds.
For longer words, my favorite way to simplify them is a technique that linguists call “back-chaining”. Back chaining breaks down words or phrases and has the student work backwards from the end, often syllable-by-syllable.
Here’s an example of how you can use back chaining for Spanish:
- Desmesuradamente (disproportionately):
- mente → adamente → suradamente → mesuradamente → desmesuradamente
- dad → lidad → ralidad → uralidad → culturalidad → terculturalidad → interculturalidad
You can even use it for phrases:
- ¿Cómo te llamas?
- llamas → te llamas → cómo te llamas?
- De todas maneras (anyway, in any case)
- maneras → todas maneras → de todas maneras
- No te preocupes (don’t worry)
- preocupes → te preocupes → no te preocupes
Is Spanish pronunciation hard?
In some ways yes, in some ways no. There are of course sounds that are difficult for English speakers. Getting used to rolling your R’s is notoriously tough, as is shaking your English pronunciation of consonants like D, T, N, & L. They look the same, but they’re surprisingly different.
But here is the key factor that makes Spanish pronunciation easy:
It is predictable.
- It’s phonetic (it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled)
- Its vowels are consistent: once you learn how to correctly say a, e, i, o, & u, you can confidently pronounce them in ANY word you encounter.
- Its rules for emphasis are consistent (for example, about 80% of words put the emphasis on the second to last syllable).
Like any skill, Spanish pronunciation will come more easily to some than others. But think of it like going to the gym: regardless of where you start, the more you train your different “pronunciation muscles”, the stronger they get.