Spanish Vowels vs English Vowels – Tips to Pronounce like a Spaniard

Did you know that almost half of the sounds we pronounce when speaking Spanish are vowels?

In Spanish, vowels are the most important part of a word. If you pronounce them wrong, it’ll be difficult to understand.

In this post, you’ll learn all you need to know to pronounce the Spanish vowels correctly.

Here you can see some tips for avoiding common errors (by English natives) when pronouncing the Spanish vowels.

Click to read the previous post on how to pronounce the Spanish consonants.

How to produce a vowel sound accurately

To say any vowel you need to control:

  • Your lips
  • Your jaw
  • Your tongue

To better understand the charts on this post and how to pronounce the Spanish vowels, I recommend you take a look at «mouth positioning for pronouncing the Spanish vowels accurately».

Spanish vowels base position of the mouth to pronounce Spanish pronounciation español pronunciacion espanol como pronunciar vocales

A little change in the position of your mouth can make you produce a totally different vowel sound and, consequently, change the meaning of what you are saying.

Have you ever heard a Spaniard pronouncing the word sheet? -This is definitely a word that many Spanish natives avoid when they speak in English.

Why?

Picture a Spanish native saying his boss: «I’ll bring you the shit in a minute». (It wouldn’t be rare at all). We have a very strong accent because, among other things, Spanish vowels are totally different from English vowels.

Let’s go to the point!

For a clearer explanation on how to pronounce the Spanish vowels, I’ll write English sounds and letters in orange and Spanish sounds and letters in blue.

How to pronounce the vowel A

Most of the books/teachers/blogs say it sounds the same as the letter A in «father». However, this affirmation isn’t very accurate since there are a lot of English accents and dialects.

Let’s make it clearer.

The Spanish A sounds like…

  • The letter A (Australian English) in «car».
  • The letter I (South of the USA) in «like» -only the first vowel of the diphthong.

The most similar sounds, which exist in all the English dialects, are:

  • /ɑ:/ (father)
  • /ɒ/ (lot) -but your lips are not rounded.

These vowel sounds –/ɑ:/ and /ɒ/ – and the  Spanish A look very much alike. They are similar, but they don’t sound exactly the same.

How to produce the sound of Spanish A

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Open
  • Lips: Unrounded
  • Tongue: Center

The chart below will help you understand the position of your mouth to get the Spanish A.

Tips to pronounce the Spanish A letter vowel tricks to sounds more native like

Differences between Spanishand English /æ/& /ʌ/

The Spanish A is somehow in between the English /æ/ (cat) and /ʌ/ (cut) but your mouth should be more open.

 

English /æ/

(cat, cap)

Spanish A

(cata, capa)

English /ʌ/

(cut, cup)

JawMid-openVery openOpen
Lips
  • The corners of your mouth are separated (as if you were smiling).

Your mouth moves:

 

←      →

Between /ʌ/ and /æ/.

  • The corners of your mouth are separated.
  • The upper and lower lip are very separated.

Your mouth moves:

←                →

  • The corners of your mouth are relaxed.
  • The lips are quite separated.

Your mouth moves:

|

Tongue (closer to the…)TeethCentre of your mouthThroat
The sound comes from the…MouthMouthThroat
Try:

Say «cup», «cap» and «cop» following the indications on the previous table to produce the Spanish A. The sound you get should be different to the vowel sounds you normally use to pronounce those words in English –/ʌ//æ/ and /ɑ/.

Three differences between Spanish A and English /ɑ:/ /ɒ/

When you pronounce the Spanish A:

  1. The corners of your mouth are more separated -your lips are not rounded at all, like in /ɒ/.
  2. Your tongue is further forward.
  3. The sound comes from your mouth, not from the throat -it isn’t so deep.
Try:

Say «father» and «lot», first normally (in English) and then pronounce those words while you open your mouth a lot and smile at the same time -as if you were screaming. Allow your mouth to produce a different sound and you’ll get the Spanish A.

How to pronounce the vowel E

The Spanish E sounds like…

Many sites say that the Spanish E sounds like the E in «pet» or «bet» (/ɛ/).

This affirmation isn’t accurate unless you’re from Yorkshire because the sound of Spanish E only exists in Yorkshire English.

British, Australian or American English don’t have the sound of Spanish  E

How to produce the sound of Spanish E

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Mid-open
  • Lips: Unrounded
  • Tongue: Front

Pronounce the Spanish E like a native with these simple tips tricks for English natives

Four differences between Spanish E and /ɛ/

The main difference is that /ɛ/ is more open so it has a touch of /a/. Spanish E does not.

When you pronounce Spanish E:

  • Your jaw is closer
  • Your tongue is a little upper, further forward and spread toward your side teeth.
  • The sound is produced in your mouth -not in your throat, so the sound isn’t so deep.
Try:

Try saying words with /ɛ/ sound like bed, bet, or pet following the previous intructions.

How to pronounce the vowel I

Did you know that…

  • a Spaniard will perceive the English /i:/ (need) as a Spanish I, while
  • an English native perceives the Spanish I as /ɪ/ (it)?

It may be because of the writing. Or maybe because of the length of the sound.

If you’re on the coast and you ever hear a Spaniard saying «hey, do you know whether there’s a bitch nearby?» , don’t pout. The Spaniard only fancies diving into the water.

The Spanish I sounds like…

The Spanish I has a very similar sound to Australian and American /i:/ (need, eat). Similar, not the same.

Note: According to the International Pronunciation Alphabet (IPA) chart, English double E in beet and Spanish I (vivir) sound the same. But they don’t.

(The letters and symbols of the IPA represent very similar sounds -sometimes the exact ones, sometimes not, like happens with the Spanish B or Spanish D).

How to produce the sound of Spanish I

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Closed
  • Lips: Unrounded
  • Tongue: Front

Tricks and tips pronunciation of Spanish I letter vowel sound

The sound /i/ is half blue half orange. This is because it represents English and Spanish /i/, although their sound slightly different.

Differences with /i:/

The Spanish I sounds more similar to /i:/ (need)  than to /ɪ/ (it). In all the English dialects. The difference is that the sound of Spanish I is:

  • Shorter.
  • Deeper – English /i:/ sounds a little more acute.
 

English /i:/

(need, eat)

Spanish I

(sí, fin)

English /ɪ/

(it, big)

JawClosedClosedMid-closed
LipsA lot of tension on the corners of your mouth -which are very separated.Tension on the corners of your mouth -they’re separated (as if you were gently smiling).

Little tension on the corners of your mouth.

(British /ɪ/ has a stronger touch of /e/).

Tongue (closer to the…)TeethTeeth

Centre of the mouth

(Semi-relaxed)

Try:

Say «happy tea», firt normally (in English) and then try to pronounce those words shortly and with a serious voice (the Spanish I).

Now pronounce the words «sheet» and «shit» with the Spanish I. You should hear a new word which isn’t any of the 2 previuous ones. If you don’t, then you aren’t getting the Spanish I.

How to pronounce the vowel O

This is one of the most difficult vowels, not because of the pronunciation itself but because in English, the letter O sounds mostly like a diphthong. This is a common error when pronouncing Spanish O.

My teachers used to say that the letter O in «photo» sounds like the Spanish O.

Lie.

The Spanish O sounds like…

The letter O in Spanish sounds like «oa» in Yorkshire English (goat, coat).

How to produce the sound of Spanish O

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Mid-open
  • Lips: Rounded
  • Tongue: Back

Tips for pronouncing the Spanish O letter vowel tricks for English native speakers

Differences with /ʌ/ and /ɔ:/

The sound of Spanish O is close to American /ʌ/ (money) but to produce the Spanish O sound:

  • Your lips should be rounded.
  • Your mouth (jaw) should be more closed.
  • Spanish O doesn’t have that touch of /a/.

The Spanish O is very like /ɔ:/ (law) too but when you pronounce Spanish O:

  • Your jaw is more closed.
  • It doesn’t have that touch of /a/.
  • It isn’t so deep –the sound is produced in the mouth, not in the throat.
 

English /ɔ:/

(law, fork)

Spanish /o/

(lo, mono)

English /ʌ/

(money, cut)

JawMid-closedMid-openMid-closed
LipsRounded

Rounded

Unrounded
The sound is…Mixed with /a/

Pure 

Mixed with /a/

How to pronounce the vowel U

Some people have a similar problem with the Spanish I and the Spanish U:

  • Spanish natives may hear /ʊ/ (book) like a Spanish U.
  • English natives could perceive the Spanish U as an English /u:/ (boot).

The Spanish U sounds like…

Again, teachers/books/blogs say it sounds the same as double O (boot). But in what dialect? There are tons of English accents and dialects so we need to be more precise.

The Spanish U sounds similar to American /u:/ (goose).

How to produce the sound of Spanish U

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Closed
  • Lips: Rounded
  • Tongue: Back

Remember: The letters and symbols of the IPA represent similar sounds, but sometimes they don’t match. Like in this case.

According to the IPA chart, English /u/ in look and Spanish /u/ (tú) sound the same. But they don’t.

Differences with /u:/ and /ʊ/

The most similar sound of these 2 is /u:/ but:

  • Your tongue should be further back.
  • The sound of the Spanish is shorter, drier.

The Spanish U sounds a little like /ʊ/ (book) as well but when you pronounce the Spanish U:

  • Your lips are more rounded.
  • Your tongue has more tension – it’s further back.
  • You say it stronger and shorter – as if you were serious.
 

English /ʊ/

(book, do)

General English /u:/

(foot, goose)

Spanish U

(tú, su)

Tongue

Lower

Towards your throat

Upper

Further back than

/ʊ/

Upper

Further back than 

English /u:/

LipsLittle roundedVery rounded

Very rounded

Almost half of the sounds we pronounce in Spanish are vowels so it’s important to pronounce them correctly.

Even if some English and Spanish vowel sounds seem similar, they’re always pronounced in a different way: Spanish vowels are pure while most of the English vowels are a mix of 2 or more vowel sounds. In this post, I explain 6 differences between English and Spanish vowels.

Learn how to say the vowels in Spanish, and your accent will be almost twice better.

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