Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Tips to pronounce the Spanish vowels and some tricks

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 in order to pronounce the Spanish vowels correctly. Here you can see some tips for avoiding common errors by English natives.

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 to 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 different vowel sound and, consequently, change the meaning of what you wanted to say.

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, although 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 /a/ sound.

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

Differences between Spanish /a/ and 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 /ʌ/

(cut, cup)

Spanish /a/

(cata, capa)

English /æ/

(cat, cap)

Jaw Mid-open Very open Open
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…) Teeth Centre of the mouth Throat
The sound comes from the… Mouth Mouth Throat
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/). There are lots of English accents so this affirmation isn’t accurate unless you’re from Yorkshire because the sound of Spanish E only exists in Yorkshire English.

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

British English doesn’t have the sound of Spanish E. The most similar sound in British English is /ɛ/ like the letter E in «bet», «dress» or «pet».

Four differences with /ɛ/

The main difference is that the English E is more open so it has a touch of /a/ that Spanish E doesn’t.

When you pronounce Spanish E:

  • Your jaw is closer
  • Your tongue is a little upper, further back 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 a Spaniard fancy diving into the water you might be asked: «hey, do you know whether there’s a bitch nearby?» :D.

The Spanish I sounds like…

The Spanish I has a very similar sound to Australian and American /i:/ (need, eat).

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 T 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

Differences with /i:/

The Spanish I sounds more similar to /i:/ (need)  than to /ɪ/ (it) in all the English dialects but 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)

Jaw Closed Closed Mid-closed
Lips A 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…) Teeth Teeth

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/ sound.

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. Click here to see 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 /o/ in Spanish, it’s close to American /ʌ/ (money) but:

  • Your lips should be rounded.
  • Your mouth (jaw) should be more closed.

The Spanish O is very like /ɔ:/ (law) too but the Spanish O:

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

English /ɔ:/

(law, fork)

Spanish /o/

(lo, mono)

English /ʌ/

(money, cut)

Jaw Mid-closed Mid-open Mid-closed
Lips Rounded

Rounded

Unrounded

How to pronounce the vowel U

Some people have a similar problem with this vowel to what happens with the Spanish I:

  • 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

To be fair, although English long U and Spanish U don’t sound exactly the same in the majority of the dialects, they’re similar.

Differences with /u:/ and /ʊ/

The most similar sound is /u:/ but:

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

The Spanish U sounds 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)

Gral English /u:/

(foot, goose)

Spanish /u/

(tú, su)

Tongue

Lower

Towards your throat

Upper

Further back than

/ʊ/

Upper

Further back than 

/u:/

Lips Little rounded Very 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 some English vowels are a mix of 2 vowel sounds.

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

Exercise

The vowel A sounds like:

Possible answers:
a) The A in father.
b) The A in cap.
c) The U in up.
d) None of them is correct.

(Click to see the answer)

Deja un comentario