Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Improve Your Spanish Pronunciation

This blog will point you to a dozen short articles I've written for students and teachers of Spanish. If you are studying Spanish, these one- or two-page articles will offer you practical, valuable tips to help you improve your pronunciation of Spanish. For teachers, it means a few new items in your bag of tricks as you help your students with accent reduction and make them sound more like native speakers of Spanish.

First, let's touch on a few themes that the articles explore more deeply. Some are myths, others are exagerations, some are facts that can be misunderstood...

Spanish is spoken faster than English. If you think about this just a little, it is totally undemonstrable. After all, considering how many millions of speakers there are and how many countries they live in, is it possible to say that there one given speed for English -- or even an average speed? The same is true of Spanish. One reason people have this impression is because of the ways in which English and Spanish are both compressed in colloquial speech.

Consider "Whatcha gunna do?" or "Where ya goin'?" As a quick rule of thumb, English crunches consonants together and nearly eliminates many vowels while Spanish joins contiguous vowels between words and can soften many consonants to the point that they are nearly inaudible. So it isn't a case of Spanish being faster; it's a case of the English-speaker's ear not being tuned to listen to where one word would start and another would begin if they were written down.

The best proof that they are spoken at about the same speed is that in broadcast journalism, for both languages, it takes about 1 minute to deliver 16 lines of text (10 point, with 1" margins). Here's a bit of interesting trivia: Once upon a time, in the 17th century, we know that Spanish was spoken faster than today -- on stage, at least. We know this because there are many written accounts of how long certain plays took to perform -- and they were shorter than the time it takes Spanish actors to perform the same plays today.

People from Spain speak with a lisp. This is simply false! This myth is based on a misunderstanding of a couple of facts. Fact 1: In Castilian (the dialect in question), the letter z is always pronounced as the th in the English word thin. Fact 2: The same is true of the letter c, but only when followed by an e or an i. Fact 3: However, the letter s is always an s. In Castilian, the s may sound a bit different than the English s, but it is not a lisp -- in many speakers, it is known as an apical s and sounds almost exactly like one of the sounds in Mandarin. By contrast, the Mexican pronunciation of the letter s is often sharper -- more sibilant -- than that of most US speakers of English.

So, having read a few interesting things about what many English speakers say about Spanish pronunciation, I invite you to take a closer look at more specific features of Spanish. Some of these articles are written to teachers, some to students, but they all have useful information for anyone who wants to understand the sounds of Spanish.

1. How to Practice Spanish Vowel Sounds.
2. Phrases for Practicing Spanish Vowels.
3. Sentences for Practicing Spanish Vowels. -- A little tougher!
4. How Spanish Vowels Join Between Words.
5. How to Get Rid of an American Accent When Pronouncing Spanish Consonants.
6. Teaching the Pronunciation of Spanish Consonants.
7. I can trick you into "trilling" your Rs!
8. Teaching the Spanish Alphabet.
9. Listen to the Sounds of Spanish.
10. Pronunciation and Accent Marks.
11. Using Dictation Improves Listening. Input helps eventual output...
12. Using Recorded Segments to Improve Pronunciation.

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