Pronunciation Problems for spanish
SpeakersWhen I first arrived in Spain, I was dozing during siesta and heard voices but could not make out specific words. In that semi-conscious state I felt as though the language had a shape. I could tell it was english: it sounded rectangular, compared to the roundness of spanish. I believe this feeling of shape was due largely to the rhythm but also the individual sounds, and perhaps the intonation.
A native spanish speaker and expert in english pronunciation give these tips for improving english pronunciation: don't open the mouth as much, don't spread or round the lips much, and relax the mouth - except for the tongue. The writer hints that english speakers seem to swallow words or mumble, and that the jaws are close together with cheeks loose (1). (This coincides with a talk I recently heard on the BBC about the characteristics of the Queen's speech, by a voice coach, Penny Dyer (2). Ms. Dyer explained the lack of opening of the Queen's mouth and the historical aristocratic belief that it was vulgar to open or move the mouth very much; hence, the “stiff upper lip”).
Research shows that intonation and rhythm are more important for overall communication than individual sounds (3). In english, the highest tone falls on a syllable of a “content” word, which the listener also perceives as most prominent, whereas in spanish, the accented syllable of the most important content word may indeed be most prominent but not at the tonal peak of the sentence. For a spanish speaker to put the highest tone on the accented syllable of the main content word may imply unintended emphasis (4).
In english, the tonal peak is moved within a sentence, depending on what we want to emphasize. In spanish, emphasis is more often made by changing word order or adding other words (4). In english, new information is given at a higher pitch and repeated information is lower. In spanish, there generally not this correlation, which gives spanish speakers trouble (4).
spanish speakers have problems with stress and timing in english sentences because the overall rhythm of spanish is different. spanish is generally regarded as a syllable-timed language (giving equal lengths of time to each syllable), whereas english is stress-timed (roughly equal time between stressed syllables). There is some controversy over strict categorization as such. Still, these generalizations are a helpful tool. Syllable length can be stretched in english to provide emphasis to a significantly greater extent than in spanish. This has been shown to be the most important aspect of rhythm and timing for comprehension. Also important are reduction of vowels in unstressed syllables, and length of time between stressed syllables, both of which differ from spanish (4).
One of the biggest frustrations students are conscious of is the lack of consistency and correlation between spelling and pronunciation. In spanish, generally all the letters are pronounced, and there are not as many ways to interpret letters or combinations of them. The spanish have five vowel sounds to (British) english's twelve (5). It is widely known that a language learner will substitute the closest sound in their L1 for the phoneme in the L2 that doesn't exist in their native language. Two outstanding vowel problems for spanish speakers are /?/ vs. /i:/ and /?/ versus /æ/. In both of these cases, the first phoneme does not exist in spanish.
A notable problem which may hinder communication is the tendency to leave off the ends of words, particularly an -s, -es, or -ed. A consonant problem that sometimes makes words unintelligible is the pronunciation of “g”, “h” and “j” as throaty sounds similar to an Arabic “g”, or “j” as a “y” inside a word. One could go on with a list of consonant and vowel problems specific to spanish speakers. A resource I have used extensively already in my short time teaching is “26 common english pronunciation problems, spanish language backgrounds”, by Ted Power (6).
(1) http://html.rincondelvago.com/english-phonetics.html Luisa Fernanda Rodriguez Lara
(2) BBC radio 4, Monday April 9, 2012 at 23:00
(3) Teaching Linguistic Mimicry to Improve Second Language Pronunciation, Karen Yates, Masters of Arts Thesis, University of North Texas, 2003. digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc4164/m1/1/.../thesis.pdf
(4) Optimizing the Teaching of english Suprasegmentals, Bertha Chela-Flores, Universidad Simon Bolivar, Caracas, Venezuela. www.publicacions.ub.edu/revistes/bells12/PDF/art02.pdf