Do You Make These Spanish Vowel Mistakes?

Every language has a different 'sound system'. When learning Spanish, note there are some important phonemic and phonetic differences between your mother tongue and Spanish that you must keep in mind to improve your pronunciation. Think of any words you may know in Spanish. Many words in Spanish, actually the majority of them, end in a vowel. This is very different from English, which has numerous words that end with consonant clusters, for example; but even when an English word ends in a vowel, it tends to be pronounced as a schwa, since it makes pronunciation easier. Spanish doesn't work like that however: every vowel has a distinct, consistent pronunciation. An e, for example, is always pronounced in a certain way in Spanish--like e in pet. Each vowel and consonant has its own sound; and this doesn't vary as it does in English, where [i] can be spelt in many different ways, like feet and seat, to give an example. It is impossible to master Spanish pronunciation in one lesson; so as with most things, you'll have to improve step by step. Here's some help to get you going: A very common mistake that native English speakers make when speaking Spanish is making the final vowel a diphthong. This happens when English lacks that vowel sound in that position. It is not that English doesn't have that sound, only that it doesn't occur in the same context as in Spanish. In such cases, the learner unconsciously tries to look for an alternative in his/her own native language. For instance, a final e--always pronounced [e] as in net (but with the mouth a bit more closed than in General American English)--will be turned into a diphthong, and this will be [ei], as in cake, since both sounds are very similar. English doesn't have an [e] in word final position, but it does have an [ei]. There are many words ending in [ei] actually; for example, bay, pay or convey. I did a study on several native English speakers to test the pronunciation of the final e, and the results showed that in fact it is very common to pronounce [e] as [ei]. These subjects were beginner and intermediate level Spanish language students--except for one: please note for your encouragement that the one advanced level student scored significantly better in this study. As you can see, practice makes improvement. That old saying, 'Practice makes perfect' should be buried and forgotten. Another vowel which is often diphthongized by native English speakers is o. In this case, it tends to be pronounced as [ou], like in boat. This vowel, as with the previous example, is worth keeping in mind. There is another vowel, a, which instead of being diphthongized is replaced by a schwa, like the vowel in to. To correct this mistake, my advice is that you try to produce the vowel you make in but (in General American pronunciation, not British), which is pretty similar to the Spanish a. To be honest, it's so similar that I don't really see the difference, and I'm Spanish, and a linguist! [Users are faithfully requested to preserve the HTML coding in this article, especially the hyperlinks in the Author Bio. This text in brackets should of course be omitted.]