English Pronunciation and Spanish Speakers

On one of my travels early in my career, I purchased a Dutch newspaper. As I read through some of the articles, it seemed as if I could understand the subject matter. I asked a Dutch friend to read it to me.

Even though it was written with the Latin alphabet, the same one used for English, the pronunciation was far different than I expected. There was no way for me to follow my friend’s oral reading of the sounds that she used for the letters. Her sounds were very different than my English sounds version of the same letters.

 

This is the problem many other speakers of other languages that use the Latin alphabet have with English pronunciation. Although they are the same symbols or combination, they are assigned differing sounds.

My clients that speak Spanish as a first language have the same struggle.

Here are some reasons why.

 

Spanish is a one of the most common languages spoken in the world, yet the sounds systems do not match the English spellings.

  • Spanish has 5 pure vowels and 5 diphthongs. North American English [NAE] has approximately 18 vowel sounds.
  • Spanish has 18 consonant sounds.   English has 24 consonant sounds.

As you have probably determined, Spanish speakers do not have some of the same vowel sounds, or as many consonant sounds as do NAE [North American English] speakers.

The most notable variant is that Spanish spelling is consistent with how a word is said.

 

Not so with English. Find a copy of the poem “English is Tough Stuff”.  In the title, the last part of “Tough” is said the same way as the last part of “stuff”. Yet the spelling is very different. The remainder of the poem becomes increasingly difficult due to the variances of the spelling.

Why? Because England’s English has been formed though centuries as a language of adaptation to invasions [Anglo-Saxons; Normans: Romans, etc] and then England as a country relying on international commerce.

 

These variances occur throughout English writing, though as children English speakers learn many of the differences through many years of spelling lessons.

However, don’t ask a Native English speaker to recite the poem, “English is Tough Stuff”. They may be almost as baffled as you.

 

Spanish pronunciation differences can interchange:

ship” or “sheep”; “tot” for taught”, or “come” for “comb”; “fool” for ““full” .

They can add the “eh” sound before /s/ consonant blends. “”ehstreet” or “Eh stove”.

 

Of note is the failure to pronounce the end consonant accurately or strongly enough ; e.g. cart for the English word card or brish for bridge or thing for think.

And swallowing of sounds in other consonant clusters; examples: next becomes nes and instead becomes istead.

The rhythm and stress patterns will be different as well. Again, the rules for these patterns are different than English.

 

What to do:

It is critical to be able to hear the differences. Listening training is the first step of each of the following. Stress pattern difference training is usually the beginning format.

Next, producing the sound from words to conversations requires a series of training exercises and guidance in how to change muscle patterns.

Seek professional guidance. Next, practice in a safe forum such as a Toastmasters international club in your area.

 

Phyllis Thesier, MAT CCC-SP has been training professionals in effective English communication, accent management strategies, voice and presentation skills for over 25 years in corporations across the USA and Asia. She offers personal training for individuals and groups in bootcamps and workshops or customized training.

For more information and a free initial assessment, Contact her at p.thesier@accentmgtgroup.com or +01 216 -644-9250.

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