Spanish is a romance language that has its roots in vulgar Latin, a dialect spoken by the Roman working class around 1700 years ago.
Today, it’s most associated with Spain, since that’s where it originated.
But it’s spoken now in not just Spain, but many Latin American countries such as Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Chile, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Peru, among others.
It’s also the second most common language spoken here in the US, with more than 40 million Americans who speak it.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a Spanish accent.
But if you find your accent gets in the way of your daily life, you may want to consider Spanish accent modification treatment in order to be better understood by the people around you.
Let’s talk about accent modification treatment, and what it can do for you.
What Is Spanish Accent Modification?
Because Spanish and English and have different roots, the accent you gain from being a native speaker of either will be quite a bit different.
Spanish speakers can learn English relatively easily compared to, say, Mandarin.
But the accent can create problems in being understood.
When looking to modify your accent, consider that English has more vowel sounds than Spanish.
English also a few different consonant sounds that don’t exist in Spanish at all.
The rhythm of a language must also be taken into account, and speed.
What ISN’T Spanish Accent Modification?
On top of accent, there are other factors to consider, such as grammatical structure, sentence structure, and how and where verbs are used.
Although a limited vocabulary is common for someone who is still learning a language, it can be its own hindrance.
However, vocabulary isn’t an accent related issue.
Your vocabulary will grow with practice.
Accent modification is also not “accent reduction,” as it used to be called.
After all, everyone has an accent of some sort – you, me, and everyone else who speaks a language.
It’s not about “reducing” your accent, but modifying it to better fit with the native speakers of your second language.
Spanish Accent Modification Tips
Below we’re going to look in more depth at some specific steps you can take, but let’s start with a quick tip:
Take note of how you end your sentences.
Most North Americans will end their sentences with an intonation that falls downward.
Many other language speakers will ‘flip up’ at the end of their sentences, which translates into English as a question.
This can make you sound unsure of yourself.
1. Be Mindful Of Your Speed
Some romance languages, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, are very fast paced.
English, on the other hand, has a much slower slower pace.
Start off by slowing down your speech slightly, especially on the words on which you want to place importance or stress.
By saying the important words more slowly, you’re able to make your point easier.
As well, lift your pitch slightly.
A rise in pitch – when in slow motion – would sound like a little ‘jump’, followed by a slide back down to the regular pitch.
Another good hint is to slow down on nouns.
In Spanish, verbs are more often stressed, so you might be used to slowing down for verbs.
However, in English, it’s often nouns that are stressed, so you’ll want to make sure you’re slowing down for nouns instead.
As well, the last word in a sentence is a good one to say more slowly, as it often completes information that’s being passed along.
The words to move quickly over are the smaller, joining words, which are often elided or ‘swallowed’ by English speakers.
This is the sort of thing that only comes with practice, but in time you’ll get the hang of it.
2. Note How English Consonants Sound
At first glance English and Spanish share mostly the same alphabet.
The only real difference is that Ñ doesn’t exist in English.
However, this can be misleading, since several consonants are pronounced completely differently in the two languages.
The resonance of your voice is an important tool for being able to clearly pronounce consonants in English.
Consonants are some of the toughest for pronunciation, so here are just a couple to focus on to really impact your understandability.
“TH” is a sound that really doesn’t exist in Spanish in this format.
For natives of Spain (as opposed to Latin American Spanish speakers), this sound is closest to the “c” pronunciation you would hear in the name of the city Barcelona.
Another very difficult consonant is the “z” sound.
Many native Spanish speakers will replace it with an “s” sound, but this isn’t accurate pronunciation.
As well, some words that have an “s” can actually sound closer to a “z”.
Speaking this way can make it sound like you have a lisp.
3. Note English Vowels Sound
Spanish only has five vowel sounds, but English can have up to twenty one in different combinations, depending on the accent.
In fact, Spanish vowels and English vowels are actually quite different in how they’re spoken and pronounced.
The tendency may be for Spanish speakers to replace an English vowel with a Spanish vowel, but those are frequently too short for English.
For instance, when you replace the word “bait” with a Spanish vowel, it can sound like “bat”.
Since “bat” is an entirely different word, this can lead to misinterpretation or lack of understanding.
You may need to practice lengthening your vowels, and stretching them until they sound more like a native English speaker.
4. Note How English Contractions Sound
Contractions are very common in spoken language, as they are more informal and keep the pace of a conversation moving along easily.
However, because they don’t exist in Spanish in this way, there is frequently some difficulty adapting speech patterns to them.
This may be due to the cluster of consonants all together.
The most important thing to remember is to always make a distinct point of pronouncing the letters after the apostrophe.
Many native Spanish speakers will not vocalize the “t” or “nt” at the end of the words.
However, to an English speaker, hearing “don” instead of “don’t” or “wouldn” instead of “wouldn’t” can change how they understand the words.
This can lead to confusion.
5. Work With A Speech Therapist
Accents can be modified with practice.
It’s not much different than helping native English speakers with certain speech problems, like speech sound disorders.
However, it really helps to have another ear to help you hear where you are less clear so you can improve your pronunciation and accent.
Speech therapists are trained to hear the differences in language, have studied how to explain the differences, and have methodologies to teach you how to overcome them.
However, it’s important to understand that there’s absolutely no reason why you should feel you must modify your accent.
Many are proud of their accents, as they feel it helps them stand out and serves as a reminder of the home they loved so dearly.
If that’s you, then wonderful.
Be proud of your accent.
But if you’re finding it gets in the way of your ability to communicate clearly, come see us here at District Speech.
As a Washington DC speech therapy clinic, we can help.
We can even help you in the comfort of your own home, through speech teletherapy.
1300 I St NW, #400E,
Washington, DC 20005
District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.