Why pronunciation: my favorite false myths

If you've made it this far and you're reading this, you probably have no doubt that pronunciation is just another element of the language and, therefore, must be taught, learned and loved. If you still have any doubts or are not clear why, it is probably because of the enormous damage that the great myths related to Spanish as a foreign language (ELE) have done in you. I have been in the ELE world since 2005, and since 2015 offering Spanish pronunciation classes, and it pains me a lot to admit that those myths are still very present. I talked about some of them in this interviewI will never tire of repeating it because I feel very sorry for the people who keep coming to me every day asking me: "Why didn't you tell me this before? \"Why didn't you tell me this before, it would have saved me so much frustration...".

I am convinced that pronunciation should be taught/learned from day one.. There are MANY reasons but the most basic one is: Why learn something wrong and then have to learn it right? And you may ask yourself: \"Why do I learn it wrong if I have a native teacher and I listen to audios in Spanish? we learn it badly because we have a deafness to the foreign language we learn; and, if we are not taught it explicitly, we apply the pronunciation of our mother tongue to the foreign language we learn.Have you ever experienced anything similar?

  • Let's see, repeat: \Are you from Madrid?
  • You are from MEdrit!
  • No, no, "maDRID".
  • MEdrit
  • maDRID 🙄
  • ... 😳

If we are not taught it and/or do not have a "non-deaf ear" (a "good ear" as they say), it is unlikely that we will be able to grasp that it is a question and not a surprise, that the tonic syllable falls in one position and not in another, and that the vowel is more open and tense, for example. And, mind you, how curious, you can have a good knowledge of grammar, an admirable sociocultural preparation and a large vocabulary, but not make yourself understood or not understand what a native speaker is saying.. Many learners of Spanish arrive for the first time in Spanish-speaking countries and are confronted with an environment that is not as safe as that of the classroom, they experience that feeling and feel a lot of frustration because communication fails. For this reason, overlooking the teaching of pronunciation, relegating it to the last minutes of class, or focusing merely on the correction of isolated sounds, is to drastically reduce the chances of success in real communication with Spanish speakers.



Well, let's get to the false myths:

False Myth 1: Spanish is easy to pronounce

I guess I wouldn't be working as a Spanish pronunciation teacher if Spanish were easy for everyone to pronounce... 🙄

Spanish is often compared to English, and English pronunciation and Spanish grammar are said to be difficult, and Spanish pronunciation and English grammar are said to be easy. 😆 This is. directly falseat the very least, refutable; first, depends on the person's mother tongue and knowledge of other languages.; and second, we can say that Spanish has fewer vowels than English but we can't say that this makes it easier. English speakers have serious problems with the pronunciation of vowels in Spanish, and it is one of the aspects that marks their foreign accent and makes it difficult to understand. We cannot forget the deafness we have to the pronunciation of the new language. (nor the deafness we have when they don't pronounce the same as we do 😉 ).

False Myth 2: Spanish is spoken the way it is written

When we state that "Spanish is spoken as it is written" we are reducing the language to sounds (and we are omitting EVERYTHING we convey with rhythm, accentuation and intonation.), and we are forgetting that some letters have more than one pronunciation depending on the context. And, to top it off, we are ignoring the fact that we speak differently in a formal and colloquial contextswhere we reduce and eliminate some sounds and tonic syllables, and where the intonation is crucial to understand humor, irony, anger, etc.

False Myth 3: the erre, the jota, the elle, the ce.

Some time ago, I had a student who, after the DiagnosisHe told me that we could start working on/improving what I thought was most important according to what he had told me I needed. After giving it some thought, I thought it would be best to start with intonation and intonation. After the third class, she wrote me an email to thank me for sending her the material from the last class and said: \"Thanks for the material, I'm going to practice a lot, especially the erre!" 😯 🙄 But we haven't worked on the erre yet!!!!

With this jaw-dropping example I want to say that although I don't give as much importance to individual sounds as my students do, I work on them because I know that for them it is. What's more, sometimes (though rarely) they are often the cause of a lack of understanding on the part of native speakers, and that's when I feel that the issue needs to be addressed immediately.

These sounds with which I title the false myth 3 are the most characteristic of Spanish. You are rarely misunderstood because you don't pronounce them well.But it's totally understandable that you want to learn them to sound more natural or to have native speakers tell you how well you pronounce (unfortunately, sometimes that's all they look at to evaluate your pronunciation 😐 ).

In short, I have little to say about the R's, you have to vibrate the tip of your tongue and that's not easy for everyone. With these videos I have helped many people, and with classes and follow up success is 95%.

The voiceless velar fricative (in j and ge gi) is pronounced differently in Spain and Latin America, fricative in my country, aspirated in Latin Spanish, therefore, it is often not necessary to correct it to be understood or to sound more natural 😉.

Something similar happens to the pronunciation of za, ce, ci, zo, zu, az, ez, iz, oz, uz. We are a minority of speakers who do this phoneme /Ѳ/ but it's all the rage and many people learning Spanish want to know how to pronounce it. Okay, it's not necessary, but I also work on it to make your learning effective.

My friend the palatal sound (written y o ll) has a lot of polymorphism in the Hispanic world, that is, it is pronounced in different ways even for the same dialect and for the same native speaker. Therefore, the first thing is to choose what pronunciation you want to do and, above all, to know how you don't have to pronounce it. In the English-speaking world there is a tendency to pronounce it as "i" and that can cause a bit of confusion in understanding because, unfortunately, it is not one of the possible ways to pronounce it.


False Myth 4: Listening for a long time helps you get better

I have already talked about this in this entry. In conversational Spanish, quantity is not important, quality is important. 😎

After pronunciation classes there are usually tasks, for example, listening to a certain sound in an audiovisual, marking unions in a text, practicing reading... Well, sometimes, I have students who can do more tasks than I recommend, and they tell me in the next class, without prior notice whether it is a good idea, or not: \"In addition to the practices you recommended, I've been talking to myself and I've recorded myself, I'm attaching the audios." Or "in addition to what we agreed, this week I have been listening to a podcast every day". And, well, that's better than nothing, but to improve pronunciation, honestly and to my regret, it's not worth it, because if you do not listen and pay attention to what you want to improve, or you do not speak with this in mind, you will not improve.. That's why I get so many people complaining that they have been listening and speaking Spanish for years, and how is it possible that they keep making the same mistakes? Well, because you have to know how to listen and how to speak.


False Myth 5: You speak too fast, so I can't understand you.

Yes, in colloquial Spanish we speak fast, more in some countries than others, and depending on the person and their mood. Although it is not fair to blame the other person for their speed when we do not understand them, it is true that sometimes we speak fast and you want to understand and, of course, you also want to speak fast so that you can get into the conversation and not be interrupted before you finish speaking. How to achieve this?

Have you ever wondered why we sometimes speak fast? Is it because we pronounce sounds at high speed? Is it because we reduce or omit some sounds? Is it because we join some words together? Is it because we do not stress some words?


Learning pronunciation is KEY, VITAL, IMPRESSIVE in order to achieve this.. So if you've made it this far, congratulations, and don't go too far, please 😉.


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