One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to learn a new language is focusing on what they are seeing rather on what they are hearing.
That is why people find Spanish language pronunciation difficult. Even those who have good proficiency in the language struggle with this.
How can you improve your Colombian Spanish pronunciation?
Let’s think about the way a baby learns to speak.
Babies spend their first months and years listening and replicating the sounds they hear. Then, they start learning the vocabulary. And, only after that, they start making sentences.
This is exactly how we should learn a new language, no matter how old we are! But, the older we get, the more analytical we became.
This makes learning a language more difficult because we are constantly comparing words, rules and sounds to our mother tongue.
So, if you want to master this accent, pay attention to the following Spanish pronunciation tips:
1. Choose your favorite accent
When learning a new language it is important you pick the accent you want to adopt.
That is the accent you will keep for most of your life. So, choose your favorite accent wisely!
If you want to speak Colombian Spanish, then it is advisable to adopt its most neutral dialect, the dialect from Bogota. It is the easiest and clearest to understand.
2. Listen and repeat
It’s all about listening and tuning into the sounds. Then, let your mouth replicate those sounds.
In general, Colombian Spanish pronunciation is quite regular. We pronounce all the words from the way they are written.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Yet, this is a common mistake that non-native Spanish speakers make. They pronounce the words the way it is written but in their mother tongue, not the way it is written in Spanish.
So, make sure you learn first the Spanish pronunciation of all vowels and consonants.
And then, repeat! That’s the best exercise.
3. Learn the sound of each vowel, and stick to it
The English language has around 19 vowel sounds depending on the country it is spoken in. In contrast, the Spanish language has five fixed vowel sounds.
Make sure you learn them and pronounce them always with the same sound:
A – Pronounced “ah”, like the “a” sound in the word “spa” or “father”
E – Pronounced “eh”, like the “e” sound in the word “let” or “shed”
I – Pronounced “ee”, like the “ee” sound in the word “see” or “bee”
O – Pronounced “oh”, like the “o” sound in the word “boring” or “orange”
U – Pronounced “oo”, like the “oo” sound in the word “boot” or “too”
These are always short and open vowel sounds; they never change. Not even when they are combined like au, eo, ia, et, etc.
- To say Barbara – Say “Bar-ba-ra” with the “ah” sound instead of “Bar-ber-uh”
- To say excelente – Say “ex-ce-len-te” with the “eh” sound instead of “ex-uh-len-tay”
Mastering the vowel sounds is a vital first step towards a better pronunciation. Vowels represent more than 50% of the word you’re trying to pronounce.
4. Get your Spanish consonants right
Even though English and Spanish have almost the same alphabet, the same letters do not always represent the same sound.
Many consonants in Spanish sound the same as the English consonants. Yet, there are important differences you should always remember:
D – The Spanish “d” is non-aspirated and it is always soft. The sound is a sort of a cross between the “t” and “d” in English.
H – The Spanish “h” is always silent.
J – In Colombian Spanish, we pronounce the “j” softer than they pronounce it in Spain. We pronounce it like the English “h” sound.
Ñ – The Spanish “ñ” sounds like “ny” in English. For instance, we pronounce “jalapeño” as “ha-la-PE-nyo”.
R – This is one of the most difficult ones for English speakers. It deserves a full section (see next tip No.6)
T – The Spanish “t” is a non-aspirated, soft sound. It sounds like the end of the American pronunciation of “wet” or “dart”.
LL, Y – In Colombian Spanish, we pronounce “ll” and “y” the same way. It is like the “y” sound from “you” in English.
For example, we pronounce “caballo” (horse) as “ca-ba-yo”.
C, S, Z – In Colombian Spanish, we pronounce “s”, “c” and “z” the same way. It is one of the main differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain.
Learn these rules, practice and stick to the sounds. Take your time to pronounce all the vowels and consonants. Don’t sacrifice proper pronunciation for speed.
5. “Rrrrr”, the non-native Spanish speaker’s nightmare
Is it also a nightmare for you?
Don’t worry, we are here to help you.
The consonant “r” in Spanish has special rules. Pay attention:
There is a soft sound (“r”) and a hard sound (“rr”).
- When the word starts with “r”, it always has a hard sound.
For example: “Raul”, “ratón” (mouse), “rosa” (rose).
- When the “r” is in the middle -or at the end- of the word, it is always a soft sound.
For example: “Colores” (colours), “ventilador” (fan), “armario” (closet)
- When you find a double “r” (“rr”) in the middle of the word, it is always a hard sound.
For example: “Carro” (car), “perro” (dog), “Correr” (To run)
It’s very important you remember these rules. Mispronouncing the “r” in the words could lead you to misunderstand. Some words mean something totally different if it’s written with one “r” or double “r”.
- Caro (expensive) vs carro (car)
- Pero (but) vs Perro (dog)
- Coro (chorus) vs Corro (I run)
How to improve your “rrrr” sound? Roll your tongue, practice, practice, and practice.
Here some sentences taught to young children at school:
“Erre con Erre Cigarro” (“R with R” cigar)
“Erre con Erre Barril” (“R with R” barrel)
“Rápido ruedan los carros” (Quickly run the cars)
“Sobre los rieles del ferrocarril” (Over the rails of the railroad)
6. Stress the proper syllable
In Spanish, there are strict rules about how to stress syllables.
For all words ending in a vowel, the stress falls on the next-to-last syllable. For example:
- “Ventana” (window) is pronounced “ven-TA-na”.
- “Cerveza” (beer) is pronounced “cer-VE-za”.
- “Cuaderno” (notebook) is pronounced “cua-DER-no”.
Words ending in a consonant (except “n” and “s”) stress the final syllable of the word. For example:
- “Papel” (paper) is pronounced “pa-PEL”.
- “Doctor” (doctor) is pronounced “doc-TOR”.
- “Comedor” (Dining table) s pronounced “co-me-DOR”
Words that don’t follow these two rules have an accent mark above the stressed vowel to show you how to pronounce them. For example:
- “Fútbol” (football) is pronounced “FUT-bol”.
- “Miércoles” (Wednesday) is pronounced “MIER-co-les”.
- “Lámpara” (lamp) is pronounced “LAM-pa-ra”.
7. Immerse yourself in the Colombian culture
There is no doubt that when immersing yourself in the culture, you will pick up easily the accent.
The most efficient way is, of course, to spend some time in Bogota studying the language and living in the city. Here you will interact with locals and your pronunciation will naturally improve.
We know that for the moment it is very difficult to travel to Bogota to study Spanish. COVID-19 has made the world stop for a while.
However, it is the perfect time to start learning Spanish at home! You can start learning the language online with us at LMTS.
As soon as the borders are open you can book your flight to Bogota. We guarantee you will have the best Spanish immersion experience.
Hope to see you soon in Bogota!
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