Common Pronunciation Traits in Accent Reduction for Individuals Who Speak Spanish as Their First Language
Spanish is a language spoken by millions of people from many countries all over the world. It is common for a native Spanish speaker to have an accent when speaking English. Although the degree or severity of accent varies from person to person, focusing on specific sound differences with the help of a professional speech therapist may help Spanish speakers reduce their accents.
The Spanish language does not have the same /z/ sound that exists in English. The letter ‘z’ in Spanish is pronounced as an ‘s’. Therefore, common pronunciation differences such as “sip” for “zip”, “bus” for “buzz”, and “race” for “raise” often occur when a person who speaks Spanish as their first language speaks English.
Frequently, the /sh/ and /ch/ sounds are reversed. For example, a Spanish speaking person may say “share” for “chair” and “chip” for “ship”, as well as “cash” for “catch”, and “witch” for “wish”.
In English, there are numerous words that begin with s-blends (meaning the ‘s’ is immediately followed by another consonant), as in the words: stop, spin, school, slow, snow, smile, sweet, scratch, street, splash, spring. In Spanish, words containing s-blends are preceded by the letter ‘e’, pronounced as “eh”, such as: escuela, estrella, espalda. Therefore, we often hear native Spanish speakers adding an “eh” sound at the beginning of s-blend words in English.
Another sound substitution typically observed is the interchanging of the ‘y’ and ‘j’ sounds in words such as: “yet” and “jet”, “yawn” and “John”, “yellow” and “jello”, and “mayor” and “major”.
The short ‘i’ vowel that occurs in a word such as “bit” is a sound that does not occur in Spanish. This sound is typically replaced by Spanish speakers with a long ‘e’ sound. Examples of this are: “bit” usually pronounced as “beat”, “will” as “wheel”, and “Tim” as “team”. As one can see, by changing the pronunciation of the vowel, the words take on completely different meanings which can cause confusion in communication.
Through the accent reduction course that I teach, and consistent practice, I have helped many Spanish speaking individuals to improve their communication skills and to speak Standard American English with a markedly reduced accent.