Mar Clavijo

Spanish Native Certified Tutor and Pronunciation Coach. TEFL Certified. 10 years Tutoring Adults Experience. Self-taught English, Japanese and Russian learner. Musician, Podcaster and Content Creator at InsightFools.

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Spanish Pronunciation

Sep 9, 2022 | 0 comments

As a self taught language learner, I know how difficult it is to be in contact a the target language. Yet, today it is rather easy to do so, thanks to the Internet.
Here’s a list of some resources we can find:
 
– Music (song lyrics), podcasts,
– Movies, series, videos,
– Blogs, articles, newspapers,
– Natives or language learners you-tubers…
 
Media possibilities are huge!
 
Such resources help us get used to the target language through keeping in contact with it.
As we listen to it and look at it…

Keeping in touch with Spanish Language

That’s what we want our students to do, so that in time they can use it in a productive way, that is: Speaking.
 
But, to do so, we need to cover pronunciation first:
 
Little by little, students get familiarized with all new sounds, stress, connected speech, so they’re finally able to produce them with their own voice. Most students need to feel confident enough before speaking aloud.
 
Thanks to approaching standard pronunciation first, they’ll feel less self-aware of their accent, as they feel motivated and capable of overcoming any Speaking Assignment you create.

Approaching Pronunciation

As a native Spanish tutor, I have realized 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. Pronunciation is one of those aspects that need a considerable amount of such 3 pillars. But, since our students aren’t getting enough opportunities to speak in Spanish, they’re most likely not becoming conversational before High School graduation.
 
Long story short: no speaking practice, no pronunciation practice!

“…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”.

As in all languages, Spanish also involves the practice of a proper pronunciation, at least to the point that it’s tangible when speaking it. The relation between what they hear and see will allow them to develop a natural pronunciation.
 
As you know, the more students look and listen to the target language, the more they get used to it. As a result, resistance from native language gets dissipated. Students will notice progress is being made when they’re able to pronounce all new sounds. And finally, they’ll feel ready to hold conversations in the target language.

How to teach Spanish pronunciation?

This guide is for teaching standard Latino-american Spanish pronunciation, containing helpful Speaking Assignments ready to use, so students enhance their learning process either inside and outside the classroom!
Speaking is the most urgent and exciting skill to learn, while at the same time, it may be the one that makes students most anxious and often insecure. Yet, there are plenty of hacks that will help them improve pronunciation, to achieve a much more natural diction, and thus develop confidence when speaking in Spanish.

 

So, here’s the Ultimate Guide to Teaching Spanish Pronunciation.

It’s broken down into 3 main Lesson plans with 7 to 15 Speaking Assignments.
 
You and they can access to the audio of each of the words you will find here, so your students listen as many times as they need, then practice and get instant feedback on pronunciation.
Wait! No need to rush!
It’s not realistic to approach 3 hearty lessons such as these in a single class.
 
It’s important to remind ourselves and our students to be patient and kind during the learning process.

 

Lesson Plans

  • Phonemes
    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!

 

Phonemes

Get this Lesson plan here:

Canva Slides
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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).

And second: as how consonants and vowels are spelled together (Look).

Good news is that there are plenty of phonemes in common between English and Spanish,

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:

Consonants

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
  • Ch
    It’s pronounced like in ‘choice’ (i.e. chao, champú)
    Speaking activity: Ch sounds like in ‘choice’
  • G
    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
  • H
    It’s ALWAYS muted! It is mainly used as an spelling matter (i.e. ahora, hielo, alcohol).
    Speaking activity: Always muted H
  • L
    ‘L’ pronunciation is lighter than in English (i.e. lago, luna)
    Speaking activity: Lighter L
  • Ñ
    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
  • Q
    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
  • R
    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
  • Y
    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:

Speaking Assignments:

 

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).

Speaking Assignments:

 

Syllable Breaking 

Get this Lesson plan here

Canva Slides
Google Slides 

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.

 

Speaking Assignments:

 

Tildes & Stress 

Get this Lesson plan here.

Canva Slides
Google Slides

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.

For example:

  • 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. Practi)
  • On second last syllable – paroxytone words (i.e. Practico)
  • On antepenultimate syllable – proparoxytone words (i.e. Práctico)

 

 Tilde Hacked!

  • 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.

Speaking Assignments:

 

Supporting Students

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?

 

See more posts by Mar here.

 

What are your thoughts on these free resources? Did you find them helpful? Let us know in the comments bellow! Your feedback is welcome.

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