Teaching English pronunciation to Spanish speakers

by Amber D. Walker

English is rapidly becoming the world's main language. In almost every country, better education and employment opportunities are beginning to depend more and more on a person's ability to speak English. Spanish speakers in particular face difficulties in learning English, because English can seem deceptively akin to Spanish. When teaching English to speakers of Spanish, there are some special areas teachers will need to address.

Concerns

When teaching English pronunciation to Spanish speakers, immediately cover the differences between the pronunciation of the alphabet in Spanish and the pronunciation of the alphabet in English. They can seem, at first glance, to be almost the same, but they are not. Even taking into account the fact that Spanish has a few extra letters than English does, the way the letters are pronounced are profoundly different. Begin with English vowels. If you ask an English speaker to pronounce vowels, they would immediately say “ay” (A), “ee” (E), “aye” (I), “oh” (O) and “you” (U). This is true, but English also has other ways to pronounce these same vowels, depending on the word and the surrounding letters. This is not the case with Spanish vowels. In Spanish, these same vowels are always “ah” (A), “ay” (E), “ee” (I), “oh” (O) and “oo” (U) (see reference 1). Because vowel pronunciation is always the same in Spanish, it is easy for Spanish speakers to pronounce English vowels incorrectly. For example, it’s not uncommon for a Spanish speaker to pronounce the word “bus” as “boos”, or “tip” as “teep” because they are relying on the Spanish pronunciation and not the English one. Consonants also provide opportunities for the native language to interfere in English acquisition. “V” and “B” are pronounced almost exactly the same in Mexican Spanish, but not in English. In the Spanish of Spain, the letter “S” is pronounced more like the way an English speaker would pronounce “TH”. It may seem elementary, but if you want to teach English pronunciation to native speakers of Spanish, starting with the alphabet is a necessity.

Practice

Spanish-speaking students will need to practice if they want to master English pronunciation. Pronunciation drills can help consolidate English pronunciation in a student’s mind, especially if you give them time to practice distinguishing between pairs of words such as “see” and “say” or “do” and “door”. Another way to help students fix English pronunciation in their minds is to give them ample opportunities to listen to a variety of native English speakers. This not only means you as their teacher, but others. Native speakers cover a broad spectrum of accents, and the more students hear different ways of speaking, the better they will be able to mimic and understand English speech themselves. TV shows and movies give students of English good listening-skills practice and chances to hear English spoken as it is used. The Marzio School’s Real English series also offers many videos featuring native English speakers from all over the world, including many videos which contain helpful subtitles.

About the Author

Amber D. Walker has been writing professionally since 1989. She has had essays published in "Fort Worth Weekly," "Starsong," "Paper Bag," "Living Buddhism" and more. Walker holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Texas and worked as an English teacher abroad for six years.