Saturday Spanish #12: 3 steps for a clear, natural-sounding accent

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Today I’m going to show you how to develop the kind of Spanish pronunciation that gives you more confidence when speaking.

When you dedicate real effort to this, here’s what happens:

You know that what you’re saying is clear and correct. This gives you confidence and makes communication smoother. This, in turn, makes you want to speak more, which further improves your abilities.

The problem is, most people learn a little bit about pronunciation at first, then never look at it again.

This happens for a number of reasons, but I think a big one is this:

Most learners concentrate on grammar so much that there’s little room for anything else.

People (understandably) want to get things “right”, so they spend most of their time on conjugations, ser v estar, etc. This results in lots of knowledge about Spanish but little ability to use it (sound familiar?)

People also tend to…

  • Prioritize correctness over communication
  • Push pronunciation practice into the future, “once I’ve learned xyz”
  • Only say things out loud when in front of a teacher or conversation partner

What most learners fail to consider is how pronunciation ties the other pieces together (or makes them fall apart).

That’s why I wanted to explain a few simple steps to turn your pronunciation into a tool that helps your Spanish come together. 

Step 1: Learn the vowel sounds

Spanish vowels are the foundation for a great accent. They’re consistent across all words, making your life easier.

For example, take the words vocabulary and vocabulario.

Depending on your accent in English, you say something like voah-cab-yoo-lair-ee” (“/voʊˈkæbjəlɛɹi/” — listen here).

But Spanish speakers will always say “vo-ca-bu-lario” (/bokabuˈlaɾjo/ — listen here)

The only tricky thing is when to combine two vowels into one syllable (this is something we’ll look at closely in the pronunciation workshop I’m running next week). The “io” in “vocabulario” is one such sound. It sounds like yo, not ee-o — one syllable, not two.

It may seem tricky at first, but any English speaker can master the 5 core vowel sounds and make a huge difference in their accent.

Step 2: Learn the tricky consonants

Many Spanish consonants are the same as English. This leads many English speakers to apply English rules to all of them.

Take the D for example. In Spanish, it’s soft, while in English it’s more explosive.

Consider the Spanish words cada lado (each side).

Most English speakers pronounce it by placing the front or tip of their tongue against the middle of the roof of their mouth.

It ends up sounding like “catta latto” (at least for Americans & Canadians). Interestingly, to a Spanish speaker, it sounds like “cara laro”.

Spanish speakers, on the other hand, tend towards soft D’s.

Rather than a tap of the tongue, the tongue touches the back of the front teeth. It sound almost like catha latho (but not quite).

For the D, and many other consonants, paying attention to the position of your tongue is the first step towards replicating the sounds you hear from Spanish speakers.

Step 3: Listen closely and mimic

One of the best things you can do for your pronunciation is to simply pay close attention.

A good exercise for this is to print the transcript of a short clip of spoken Spanish and listen to it three times.

  • First, just listen.
  • Second, listen and underline the words you hear emphasized.
  • Third, listen and speak at the same time, trying to speak alongside the audio.
  • Finally, record yourself reading it. Compare your pronunciation to the native speaker’s, and see where there are differences.

Don’t feel bad or judge yourself for any perceived “mistakes” — just notice, and see if you can replicate the sounds you hear by comparing your audio to theirs.

Follow these steps and you’ll make noticeable progress towards having the confident Spanish pronunciation that you want.


P.S. If you want a more thorough, interactive, guided approach to improving your pronunciation, join the workshop I’m running next week.

You’ll leave with the foundation for great Spanish pronunciation, plus a clear plan to implement what you learn in 5 minutes a day. Click here to get the details and sign up.

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Hey there, I'm Connor. I help motivated learners speak Spanish without slogging through grammar books or tapping through every new app. I started Breakthrough Spanish to give more people the confidence and focus to learn effectively Spanish from home. Learn more about me here.

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