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The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Spanish Pronunciation
Keeping in touch with Spanish Language
“…the most substantial thing when it comes to target language is: the degree of frequency, intensity and awareness with which we listen to and look at it”.
How to teach Spanish pronunciation?
So, here’s the Ultimate Guide to Teaching Spanish Pronunciation.
What does Spanish sound and look like?
- 16 New Sounds
- 5 Vowel Sounds Hacked!
- Getting Vowels Together
- Syllable Breaking
How long are Spanish words?
- Beats per Word
- Cutting a Strawberry Cake
- Syllable Breaking Hacks!
- Tildes & Stress
With or without Tilde?
- Stress & Meaning
- 3 Stress Locations
- Tilde Hacked!
Get this Lesson plan here:
Any units of sound that distinguish one word from another is what we know as a phoneme.
For example p, b, d, and t in the English words pad, pat, bad, and bat.
Let’s approach Phonemes in two ways:
First: as how consonants and vowels sound together (Listen).
as in how they are spelled and how they sound.
What does Spanish sound and look like?
Now let’s take a look to all 16 new sounds, including new spelling matters:
Get your students to notice that there are no isolated consonants in Spanish! Every other should always be along with a vowel.
- B and V
In spite of the difference regarding pronunciation between ‘B’ and V’ in English, both letters are pronounced the same in Spanish (i.e. bebé, violín)
Speaking activity: B and V sound the same
- C, K, P and T
They are not explosive in Spanish!
Speaking activity: Non-explosive C, K, P, & T
- C sounds like K
Whenever it’s followed by an ‘A’, ‘O’ or ‘U’ (i.e. casa, color, cuidado)
Speaking activity: C sounds like K before A, O & U
- C sounds like S
Whenever it’s followed by an ‘E’ or an ‘I’ (i.e. cielo, césped)
Speaking activity: C sounds like S before E & I
It’s pronounced like in ‘choice’ (i.e. chao, champú)
Speaking activity: Ch sounds like in ‘choice’
It’s pronounced like in ‘girl’ before A, O & U (i.e. gato, amigo, agua)
It needs a muted ‘U’ to get this sound before either ‘E’ and ‘I’ (i.e. guitarra, espagueti)
Speaking activity: G sounds like in ‘girl’ before A, O & U
Speaking activity: Gu sounds like in ‘girl’ before E & I
- G sounds like H
Whenever it’s followed by an ‘E’ or an ‘I’ (i.e. gente, gimnasio)
Speaking activity: G sounds like H before E & I
It’s ALWAYS muted! It is mainly used as an spelling matter (i.e. ahora, hielo, alcohol).
Speaking activity: Always muted H
‘L’ pronunciation is lighter than in English (i.e. lago, luna)
Speaking activity: Lighter L
Pronunciation it’s actually pretty similar to Italian phoneme “gn” from Lasagna.
It’s like saying ‘N’ but adding ‘yeh’ at the end (i.e. jalapeño, niña)
Speaking activity: ‘Ñ’ Pronunciation Hack
It’s ALWAYS spelled with an ‘U’, which is ALWAYS muted (i.e. Quiero queso = I want cheese). This phoneme is similar to ‘Ch’ pronunciation in English, as in Architect and Orchestra (i.e. Arquitecto, Orquesta)
Speaking activity: Qu sounds like K
There are strong and weak R’s.
Strong R’s scenarios:
1. When it’s at the end of the word (i.e. estudiar, color)
2. When it’s at the beginning of the word (i.e. ropa, ratón)
3. When it’s before any consonant (i.e. abierto, sonrisa)
4. When it’s double (i.e. perro, carro)
Speaking activity: Strong R’s escenarios
Weak R’s scenarios: There are only two cases when you would use a weak R:
1. When it’s between two vowels (i.e. claro, para, pero).
2. When it’s between a consonant and a vowel (i.e. gracias, pregunta, trabajo)
Speaking activity: Weak R’s escenarios
When isolated or after ‘O’ is pronounced as ‘E’ (i.e. ¿y tú?, hoy).
When in combination with a vowel, it’s similar to ‘J’ (i.e. ya, yo, yuca)
Both Y and LL are pronounced the same in Spanish.
Speaking activity: Y and LL sound the same!
We won’t find these in Spanish…
Show students the phonemes they’re so used to in their mother tongue that aren’t in the target language. This is a great way to dissipate resistance from native language.
- Vowel digraphs: aw, eigh, oo, ow
- Consonant digraphs: ph, sh, th, wh
- Consonant blends: sts
- Initial sounds: kn, sk, wr
- Final sounds: ck, gh, ng
- Endings without a vowel: -ps, -sm, -ts
- Suffixes/prefixes: un-, over-, under-, -ly, -ness, -ful, -est
5 Vowel Sounds Hacked!
English language is generally considered to have at least 12 vowel sounds,
whereas Spanish ones are shorter, fewer and more consistent.
We only have 5 vowel sounds divided into two groups:
Strong Vowels (A – E – O): We place our tongue in the lower part of our mouth. Oral cavity is enlarged to produce each one of them.
Weak Vowels (I – U): They are produced in a minimum space between tongue and root.
Here are some useful hacks to get vowels pronunciation to the next level:
Getting Vowels Together
It’s very common to find 2 vowels together among a lot of Spanish words,
regardless if they’re strong or weak vowels.
Whenever this happens, it’s called a ‘diphthong’.
Words such as: Ciudad – Aeropuerto – Día – Cielo, are good examples of possible vowel combinations.
Luckily for us, diphthongs pronunciation practice come in handy (literally).
- Diphthongs From Vowel A
- Diphthongs From Vowel E
- Diphthongs From Vowel I
- Diphthongs From Vowel O
- Diphthongs From Vowel U
Get this Lesson plan here
How long are Spanish words?
Most of words in English tend to be monosyllabic,
whereas most Spanish words tend to be from 2 to 3 syllables each.
That’s a huge difference!
So, how do we know how long or short is a word in Spanish?
It will depend on how many beats the word takes to be fully pronounced.
Beats per Word
For instance: ‘Sonrisa’ (Smile) takes 3 beats.
We broke this word down like this: Son-ri-sa
The penultimate syllable is the one that is stressed.
It’s like this slice has a slightly larger strawberry compared to the others.
That’s how we count syllables in Spanish language. It’s like…
Cutting a Strawberry Cake
Syllable Breaking is like when you want to cut a word into slices.
Syllables are broken into groups of pronounced sounds in a single beat.
Help students to train their ear so they notice every single one by ear.
Syllable Breaking Hacks!
- Every syllable has only 1 vowel.
- A single syllable may gather 3 to 4 consonants (i.e. trans-por-te).
- Remember: A syllable is defined by a group of pronounced sounds per beat.
- All words in Spanish have at least one stressed syllable. Yet, not all stressed syllables carry a tilde. In other words, it’s very likely to find a large number of words without it.
Tildes & Stress
Get this Lesson plan here.
They are not the same thing, but no need to get stressed out!
This is all related to previous Lessons: Phonemes and Syllable Breaking.
With or without Tilde?
Let’s take a look to what Stress means first:
Stress in Spanish is functional!
To change the placement of stress, changes the meaning of a sentence or phrase.
- Práctico, meaning: practical or handy (adjective).
- Practico, meaning: I practice (1st person present tense conjugation).
- Practicó, meaning: he/she practiced (3rd person past tense conjugation).
So, what is a Tilde for?
Tildes are written accent marks, which are over vowels only (á – é – í – ó – ú)
They are mainly used to mark word stress as a spelling matter.
3 Stress Locations
Now, let’s count Syllables.
Stress usually occurs in three positions:
- On final syllable – oxytone words (i.e. Practicó)
- On second last syllable – paroxytone words (i.e. Practico)
- On antepenultimate syllable – proparoxytone words (i.e. Práctico)
- Proparoxytone words ALWAYS carry tilde.
- Paroxytone words are usually stressed without tilde.
The following accounts for around 80% of Spanish vocabulary:
Words ending in vowels and those ending in -s or -n are mostly paroxytone.
Here’s a method to use with students when they’re struggling with pronunciation:
It’s a 5 Step Process
Step 1 – LOOK at the word
What does it mean?
How is it spelled?
Step 2 – LISTEN to it
What sounds do you hear?
Are there any muted letters?
Step 3 – THINK about the word
How is each sound spelled?
Do you see any word parts?
Step 4 – SAY the word
How was it?
Did you think about the sounds and letters?
Step 5 – WRITE the word
Did you copy all of the letters carefully?
Did you say it aloud as you were writing it?
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