Spanish Vowels – The 4 Most Common Pronunciation Errors + How to Fix Them

Have you ever took your car to go shopping or met some friends, and suddenly realized you’re heading to work or somewhere else you frequently visit?

When you speak your first language, you don’t think how to place your mouth.

It’s like driving.

You’ve done it so many times that it just comes automatically.

That’s is exactly what happens when you’re learning a foreign language.

Your mouth is used to make certain movements after others. It automatically goes from one place to the next one.

You don’t think where you need to put your tongue, how open your jaw should be, or how rounded your lips are.

The same way you don’t think you have to press the clutch to change gear.

But what if you were used to drive automatic cars and you had to drive a stick shift car for the first time?

When we speak a foreign language, we may know we have to say a word in a certain way, but our tongue seems to forget it. It moves automatically.

That’s one of the reasons why we make mistakes when speaking a foreign language, even when we know the correct pronunciation.

Sometimes we are aware we’re making a mistake.

Sometimes we are not.

Making mistakes when we’re learning a foreign language is natural. Most of the errors are common for all the speakers that share their mother tongue.

And there are 4 pronunciation errors that almost every English native makes when pronouncing the Spanish vowels.

If you erase them, you’ll drastically reduce your accent.

Pronunciation error 1. Lazy tongue

Error descriptionExamplesHow to fix it?
English natives tend to replace the Spanish vowels when the syllable isn’t strong, with the schwa sound [ə] or a sound that is closer to schwa.mi amigo → mi əmigo
por favor → pər favor
esta hoja → estə hoja
persona → pərsona

Exaggerate. Exaggerate a lot when pronouncing Spanish vowels. Pretend you are making fun of a Spanish native, like Enrique Iglesias or Penélope Cruz, or simply imitate someone you like.
It may seem stupid at first, but it really works.
Fake it till you make it!

This error occurs because the pronunciation in English is generally more relaxed than in Spanish, so it isn’t easy for English speakers to tense the tongue and place it correctly when pronouncing Spanish vowels.

Probably, you too tend to say them by putting your tongue close to the center of the mouth, but in Spanish, the 5 vowel sounds are produced by placing the tongue on the extremes of your mouth.

Spanish vowels replaced with schwa  can't pronounce correctly crispy pure erase pronunciation error

Pronunciation error 2. Australian mistake

Error descriptionExamplesHow to fix it?
English speakers tend to pronounce the sequence -au- as /o/ when it isn’t stressed, as they normally do in English.aunque → onque
Australia → Ostralia
autor → otor
Claudia → Clodia
aplaudir → aplodir
Pronounce slowly. They say Spanish is a very fast language, but you aren’t in a competition. Slow down and pronounce clearly.

When you replace the diphthong -au- with O, the meaning of the word may change. For example, the word audio (audio) becomes odio (hate).

It doesn’t come as a surprise that -au- is replaced with the sound /o/ since our tongue moves from A to U through O. You’ll better understand if you take a look at the image below.

mistakes error when pronouncin Spanish vowels by english natives au becomes o. avoid it, fix and you will sound more natural your tongue goes from A to U through O

Pronunciation error 3. Not whistling

Error descriptionExamplesHow to fix it?
In general, English natives pronounce Spanish rounded vowels (o,u) with their lips quite relaxed. When you say the vowel U, we hear [o], and when you say O we hear schwa [ə] or something else we aren’t able to recognize as a Spanish sound.univesidad → oniversidad
yo puedo → yo poedo
un día → on día
por eso → pər eso
es blanco → es blancə
You should tense your tongue and lips more. Your mouth can’t be relaxed when pronouncing these 2 vowels. To say rounded vowels clearly -above all the U sound- you need to form a very tight circle with your mouth, as if you were whistling.

Among the vowel sounds, the schwa is probably the one that gives you away as a gringo the most. Schwa is the most common vowel in English, so it takes time to get rid of this habit when speaking Spanish.

However, this pronunciation error isn’t difficult to fix.

Pronunciation error 4. Inviting 20 people. 

Error descriptionExamplesHow to fix it?
Many English natives pronounce the letter O as /ou/ and the letter E as /ei/, mainly at the end of the word or in stressed syllables.le → lei
vente → veinte
no → nou
quiero → quierou
todos → toudos
This is something that comes automatically. You just need a lot of practice to fix it. Remember that in Spanish, 1 vowel equals 1 sound.

When this happens, the meaning of the word may change, as in the previous example: the word vente (come) becomes veinte (twenty).

In English, they say vowel sounds around 38% of the time, while 62% are consonants.

In Spanish, almost 50% of the sounds we say are vowels, so it’s worth learning how to pronounce the Spanish vowels.