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.

This is the second in the continuing series giving you tips and strategies how to help you ADD the English accent to your speaking style.

English Clarity Basic Strategies: Here is the set of strategies and an interactive software program, “English Talk Shop” that can help you attain better English clarity.   In the following segments, we will address the primary consonants, vowels and other segments that differing languages differ from the North American English [NAE] “Accent”.

Three Things You Need to Know:

  1. The letters in English words do NOT have the same sound rule system as Spanish.
  2. English has many different sounds, rhythm and stress patterns rules that are different than Spanish.
  3. Spanish only shares 20 sounds of the 41 English sounds. And 12 of the 25 rhythm-stress rules.

Sound Components You Need to Know:  All language sound-systems have muscle movement components that make up how each sound is made in a very rapid tiny muscle movement sequences.

Consonants have three components. Place: Manner and Voicing

  • PlaceWhere is the sound made in the mouth? For English Consonants, there are seven (7) possible places.
  • Manner: How is it made?
    • With friction (Fricative):
    • With friction + stopped. (Affricate):
    • With a exPlosion feature? (Plosive);
    • As a gliding sound / (Glide):
    • Or as a liquid free flowing sound? (Liquid)
  • Voicing: Ask yourself – For each consonant in English – Is the larynx (voice box) turned on when the sound is said or is it off?

Vowels of English are made using the voice moving across different select tense or relaxed movements of the tongue and openness of the mouth and jaw.  Other English vowels are blended combination of two single vowels – called diphthongs. For example: /Bet/ (Single vowel sound) versus /Bait/ (a Diphthong )

Differences:  With Consonants, we often see that most substitutions are because of voicing and / or a difference in place (where the tongue goes to make a sound).    Vowel differences between languages are usually in response to:

  • Not having the sound within your first language sound system (“mother tongue”)
  • Difficulty forming the sound around consonants that are not usual sound combinations within the your first language.

Yet, with differing versions/dialects of many languages, it can be most of the components are involved in the substitutions or omissions.  When tired or stressed, muscle groups tend to revert to old learned sequenced sound patterns of movements of the first languageEven though the vocabulary may be English. It may not sound like it.

Although Latin American Spanish has many variances across countries, it is mutually understood in many of the countries.  Spain has some larger variances, yet Latin American Spanish is usually understood in Spain.

The NAE / English sounds that differ:  NOTE-Spellings are often different.    Phonemes in NAE – English that are not found in Spanish include the following vowels and consonants:

Vowels: Spanish has only 5 vowels: English as 17+: Spanish vowels are much shorter in duration than English vowels, so the word will sound “ cut-off” to an English listener

* /ae/ sound as in “ pack” – Common substitution may be an /eh/ as in “peck”

* /ai:/ diphthong – long “I” sound as in “pie” — Common substitution may be an /ah/

* /ei:/ diphthong – long “A” sound as in “ pay;” — Common substitution may be an /e/

* /eh/ short “e” sound as in “pet” — Common substitution may be an /ih/

* /ah/ sound as in “pot” — Common substitution may be an /e-/

* /uah/ diphthong – sound as in “foot”  — Common substitution may be an /ih/

* /ih/ sound as in “pit” — Common substitution may be an /ee/

* /ow/ diphthong – sound as in “Brown” — Common substitution may be an /uh/

Consonants: There be either final consonant deletions or these substitutions; Many consonant blends may have one sound dropped OT with /s/ blends – There is usually an added /eh/ as in “estreet”

* /v/ sound as in “various; river, love”  — Common substitution may sound like  /b/ or /f/

* /z/ sound as in “ zoo; easy; knees” – Common substitution may be an /s/

* /sh/ sound as in “sheet; social; quiche” — Common substitution may be an /s/

* /zh/ sound as in “ vision; beige” – Common substitution may be an /s/ or /z/

* /ch/ sound as in “ chair; nature; watch” — Common substitutions may be an /sh/:

* /J/ sound as in “jeans; logic; package” — Common substitution may be /ch/

* /th/ voiceless – sound as in “ thick; healthy; with” — Common substitution may be a /t/ or /f/

* /th/ voiced – sound as in “these; either, smooth” — Common substitution may be a /d/ or /z/

Listen to each word on a pronunciation website such as the Merriam Webster Dictionary You can see the spelling, the simplified pronunciation, the IPA spelling as well as Hear the pronunciation of the sound in the word.    Record your effort – Have Mentor listen – Then record each word correctly 9 out of 10 times.

Next continue to follow the steps as listed in the English Clarity Basic Strategies from a single word