Spanish vowels vs English vowels – 6 differences between them

Understanding the difference between Spanish and English vowels is vital to know how to produce the Spanish vowel sounds correctly and reduce your accent since 1 out of 2 sounds you say when you speak Spanish, is a vowel sound.

These are the main differences between English and Spanish vowels:

1. Vowels are the most important part of the word

Spanish natives tend to vocalize, even when we speak in another language.
(Have you noticed how strong our vowels sound when we speak English?)

As the title of this section says, in Spanish, the most important part of any word are the vowels (vocalic language), while in English, consonants are more important than vowels when it comes to pronunciation.

What do you mean consonants are more important?

In English, lots of vowel sounds are substituted with schwa (or hesitation sound). For example, most of English natives would pronounce the letter E in father” as a reduced vowel sound or schwa [ə])

We don’t have the schwa sound in Spanish, but you probably use it when you speak our language.

It’s a very common mistake when pronouncing Spanish vowels.

This leads us to the next point.

2. Consistency

English has between 14 and 21 vowel sounds, while Spanish has only 5 vowel sounds. And every Spanish vowel is always pronounced the same way.

A Spanish word that contains 3 times the vowel E (for example, the word “beberé”), will be pronounced with only one vowel sound: [e]. This doesn’t happen in English.

In fact, some Spanish sentences may contain only one vowel sound. 

Example:

  • El bebé bebe leche.
  • Mamá ya va para casa.
  • Yo no soporto los osos. 

Hit the play button and you’ll see the biggest difference between English and Spanish vowels with a fragment of “I love Lucy”.

Ok, Ricky’s accent is from Cuba, not from Spain, but the purpose of this video is to show you the lack of consistency when it comes to English pronunciation, and put it in constrast with Spanish vowels, which always sound the same way.

There’s only one sound for each vowel: the letter A sounds [a] and the letter O sounds [o]. Always.

No headache.

3. No single vowel sounds exactly the same in English and Spanish

You may think that some of the Spanish vowels sound the same as in English but actually, they don’t.

None of the Spanish vowels sounds the same as in English. Even [i] and [u] are different, although sometimes they may sound almost the same.

That’s why we normally have such a terrible accent when we speak in each other’s language.

And, in the image below, you can see the articulation point of Spanish vowels (blue).

You can also find English vowels in a very very light orange color in the background.

Spanish vowels fornt centre back pronunciation position of the tongue teeth palate

In English there are long and short vowels.
In Spanish, the vowels are always short, as in “pop”.

So Spanish vowels are pronounced faster. In approximately, half the time compared to an English vowel (180 to 260 milliseconds in English vs 160 milliseconds in Spanish).

Here you can see 4 common pronunciation errors when pronouncing Spanish vowels, and how to avoid them.

4. Number of vowels sounds: 5 in Spanish vs 14 in English

English has at least 12 vowel sounds, and even more, depending on the source you search, and the dialect.

Spanish has only 5 vowel sounds.

*In some regions of Spain, like Murcia or Valencia, they have more than 5 vowel sounds, but in this post we focus on general Spanish.

You only need to learn these 5 vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, u).

5. Your mouth is tenser when pronouncing Spanish vowels

Above all, when pronouncing rounded vowels (o, u).

Spanish pronunciation is produced more in the front part of the mouth, while in English it’s produced more in the back.

So when pronouncing English vowels your mouth is generally more relaxed since the articulation point of the vowels is usually closer to the centre of your mouth, and many times you reduce the vowel sound to schwa (right in the center of the mouth).

A Vietnamese friend used to have muscle pain in her mouth after speaking Spanish for a while. She used to say that attending her Spanish course was like going to a gym for mouths.

¡So warm up your mouth muscles before you start practicing your Spanish!

6. Spanish vowels are pure

English speakers tend not to pronounce unstressed vowels or to pronounce them with a neutral sound: schwa.

In Spanish, this sound doesn’t exist. The Spanish vowels are as different as possible from each other.

Look at the following image, which represents where in the mouth is produced each Spanish vowel.

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

Spanish vowels aren’t a mix of different vowels -like French Ö, which sounds something between [e] and [o].

Spanish vowels sound pure -and extremely exaggerated, so don’t be ashamed of exaggerating your pronunciation 🙂

If you want to nail Spanish pronunciation, you should practice with a native speaker.

Non-natives might be great teachers, but many of them have quite a strong accent and, if you learn from them, you’ll pronounce Spanish just like they do and, consequently, you’ll keep that “guiri” accent you have right now.

1 mistake (almost) everybody do every day they practice their Spanish,
that is preventing them from having a good pronunciation and connect with natives

And what to do instead

8 minutes and 57 seconds, and you can start doing the same from today, if you want.