10 Spanish Words hard to Pronounce | Pronunciation in Spanish can be a great hurdle for language acquisition. Have you ever deeply considered why Spanish pronunciation is such a challenge for some individuals when learning a second language? You can spend years acquiring the correct Spanish grammar and vocabulary, but may find it difficult to land a new job or talk with native speakers of Spanish because they have a difficult time understanding your accent.
Why can pronunciation in Spanish be difficult?
How can children learn so many languages with ease, but adults are left with the struggle of moving their mouths and tongues to form the correct words? We did it before with our first language, so …… why is it so hard now to know how to pronounce Spanish words correctly?
First of all, the answer does not mean you are lacking in “natural talent,” “music skills,” “intelligence” or has anything to do with your level of education. It’s just that the degree of difficulty in being able to have native level pronunciation increases with age.
The main theory as to why pronunciation is so difficult has to do with cognition rather than physical abilities. We have a harder time categorizing and conceptualizing “raw sounds” in speech.
How to improve your pronunciation in Spanish?
If you want to improve your pronunciation you have to change the way you think about the components of each word. This does not just mean sounds but also syllables, stress patterns and rhythm. It’s no easy task to change the speech patters we have adopted since childhood that were correct for our first language. What learners really need is help thinking about the sound so that they can reproduce it.
We recommend being comfortable speaking in a very different way. You need to completely switch off your native language and all of your preconceived notions about how things should be said and prepare yourself to be logged into a completely different system of thinking.
What letters are hard to pronounce in Spanish?
“R:” The Spanish “r” is definitely at the top of the list for English speakers. Both the rolled version and the single “r” can make or break being understood correctly. This is especially true for telling the difference between words like “caro” (expensive) and “carro” (car).
“B” and “V:” When it comes to the letters “b” and “v,” English speakers battle to let go of the “v” sound they’re used to, rather than pronounce the letter exactly like a “b.”
Spanish Vowels are another one to add to the list. They are all the same length, except when one vowel follows another. English speakers tend to vary the length of vowels.
Tips for tackling Spanish vowels: a pronunciation guide
- The “a” in Spanish is pronounced like a short version of the vowel in “art.”
- The “e” is pronounced “eh,” as in “bed,” but shorter.
- The “i” is pronounced like the “i” in “lick.”
- The “o” is pronounced like the vowel in “long,” but shorter.
- The “u” is pronounced like the vowel sounds in “could” or “put.”
Whenever you are pronouncing a Spanish vowel, a wide-open mouth is important to making these vowels sound natural.
More difficult sounds and how to pronounce in Spanish
“D” and “T:”
There are also a few sounds in Spanish that English speakers pronounce too strong. These include the Spanish “d” and “t,” which are softer, with almost no air blown out. When pronouncing the “t” in Spanish, the tip of your tongue should just touch the back of your teeth.
10 Spanish Words hard to Pronounce
Here’s a list of the most challenging everyday words in Spanish that are hard to pronounce. We have seen our Spanish language students struggle with those Spanish words over all of our years of experience.
This is not true for all students of course, but mostly for our native English speakers.
Make sure you listen carefully to the audio for each word, read the Spanish pronunciation rules we’ve included and practice the pronunciation in Spanish. This is a great activity to improve your (spoken) Spanish no matter what your first language is.
10 Spanish Words hard to Pronounce
1. Verde (Green) & 2. Tarde (Afternoon)
The “r to d” combination in Spanish is very difficult to switch between quickly. We have had many students who just can’t move their tongue between these two letters in a natural and fast way.
Tip: Put most of your effort into pronouncing that difficult quick “r” sound and let the letter “d” be softer and the “de” half sound like an afterthought.
3. Desafortunadamente (Unfortunately) & 4. Probablemente (Probably)
I know as an English speaker you may feel tempted to just say the word as you would in English and add “men-Tay” at the end, but unfortunately this is not so.
Tip How to Pronounce in Spanish:
Pronounce the final “e” as “eh” and not “ay.” Then, break down each word into syllables and give each syllable the same amount of weight. Turn off the English switch in your brain and say, “des-a-for-tu-na-da-MEN-te” slowly and then start to pick up speed once your rhythm becomes more natural.
5. Aeropuerto (Airport)
Wow! This word has so many vowels and diphthongs, also known as gliding vowels. These are a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable. This means that your tongue will move during the pronunciation of the vowel. Not to mention there are even some tricky “r’s” thrown in there!
For the first diphthongs, just pronounce the two vowels until they are merged together into one sound. So the “ah-eh” just becomes “ay.” Next you will have to practice that “ue” followed directly by the “r.” Once you get the hang of these tricky parts, the rest will come together smoothly.
6. Desarolladores (Developers)
This word is extra complicated because you have the “rr” and the “ll,” which surprisingly is more complicated to pronounce than you may expect.
The “ll” can be pronounced different from country to country and region to region, but the closest way we can describe the pronunciation of the “ll” is almost like the English “y” (but a bit harder) like in the word “yellow,” or “yeast.” The double “ll” can also be pronounced with a “sh” sound; this happens in Argentina and Uruguay.
7. Ferrocarril (Railroad)
This word is super tricky because you need to pronounce the “rr” not only once but twice! These sounds are quite hard for English speakers but they are not impossible.
Tip How to Pronounce “rr” in Spanish
When making any “r” sound in Spanish you should place the tip of your tongue lightly on the top of your mouth. To find the right position, say the letter “t” in English. That is where your tongue should be. To roll the “r” the issue is finding the correct position and getting it to vibrate. Breathe out of your mouth and let your tongue vibrate up and down. Keep practicing!
8. Carrera (race/career)
Carrera includes both types of the “r” pronunciation in one word.
Start by pronouncing a strong “c” and open your mouth to properly pronounce the “a” sound in Spanish. Then focus on pronouncing a strong rolling “r” before you finish off the word with a soft “r.”
9. Impermeabilizante (Waterproof)
If you head to Latin America during the rainy season, or to Northern Spain, you will definitely need to use this word especially if you forgot your waterproof rain jacket. The sheer number of syllables and the diphthong in the middle makes this word a doozy even for Spanish speakers.
Tip: Break this down into separate syllables and say it slowly until you feel comfortable saying it in a natural way. “Im-peR-mi-a-bil-i-SAN-teh.”
10. Huevos Revueltos (Scrambled eggs)
The challenging part of pronouncing these two words is that the “v” is pronounced as a soft “b,” plus the double set of diphthongs (“ue”).
Tip How to Pronounce in Spanish
The “v” in Spanish is always pronounced as a “b,” and in the middle of the word it’s a gentler version of a “b” where your lips will hardly touch. To pronounce the vowel sounds all you have to do is blur them together. The “oo-eh” will become “weh.”
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