Spanish Vowels – Mouth positioning

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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, as well as the word «beach».

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, our vowels are totally different from yours and the other way around!

2 kinds of vowels depending on your lips

Unrounded (a, e i)

There isn’t much tension in your lips. Your lips are relaxed.

Rounded (o, u)

When a vowel requires you to round your lips to pronounce it, that’s exactly what you should do. Take it to the verbatim because you have to round your lips more than in English. If you don’t see wrinkles on your lips, they aren’t rounded enough.

Rounded and unrounded vowels a e i o u Spanish mo

2 kinds of vowels depending on your jaw

Open (a, e, o)

Wide space between your tongue and the palate. Your tongue is closer to the floor of your mouth.

Closed (i, u)

Narrow space between your tongue and the palate. Your tongue is closer to the palate.

Open and Closed Spanish vowels position of the mouth to pronounce them open closed a e i o u for english speaker tongue diphthongs

This classification of open and closed vowels is important to understand the Spanish diphthongs, triphthongs and hiatus which is something you must know if you want to pronounce the Spanish vowels like a native speaker.

3 kinds of vowels depending on the position of your tongue

How far -or close- is your tongue from the teeth and throat?

Front Center centre and Back vowels mouth positioning depending on your tongue position  a e i o u

Front (e, i)

These two Spanish vowels are pronounced by placing your tongue close to the teeth.

Center (a)

This vowel is pronounced with your tongue in the middle of the mouth, between your teeth and throat.

Back (o, u)

To pronounce these vowels your tongue should be close to the throat.

Pronounce the different Spanish vowels and feel how your tongue moves from the back to the front and from the bottom to the roof of your mouth.

In short

Spanish vowels front centre back pronunciation position of the tongue teeth palate
On the chart above:
When the vowels appear in pairs, like
 /ʌ/ (cut) and /æ/ (cat) , the one right represents a rounded vowel.
In blue the Spanish vowels; in orange, the English vowel sounds.

Mouth position for the letter A

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

Mouth position for the letter E

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

Mouth position for the letter I

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

Mouth position for the letter O

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

Mouth position for the letter U

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

You can find more info and tips to pronounce the Spanish vowels here.

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