Spanish is a romance language that has its roots in vulgar Latin, a dialect spoken by the Roman working class around 1700 years ago.
It is 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.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a foreign 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 in your new home country.
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.
While most Spanish speakers do learn English relatively easily, the accent can create problems in being understood.
When looking to modify your accent, consider that English has more vowel sounds than Spanish, and has 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, how verbs are used, and where.
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; it will quickly improve with daily 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 a down-cadence.
Many other language speakers will ‘flip up’ at the end of their sentences, which translates into English as a question, and 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 has a much slower cadence, so 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.
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 – with the only real difference being that the Ñ doesn’t exist in English.
However, this can be misleading, since several consonants are pronounced completely differently in the two languages.
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; though 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, and can be confusing.
As well, some words that have an “s” can actually sound closer to a “z”, and will need extra attention and practice.
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.
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, “bait” – when replaced with a Spanish vowel – can sound like “bat”, and 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, possibly 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 and could lead to confusion.
5. Work With A Speech Therapist
Truly, most accents can be modified with practice.
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.
Contact us to book an appointment today.
If you’re curious to learn more about this subject or would like to consult with one of our speech and language therapists, feel free to contact us.
Until next time,
District Speech and Language Therapy
1331 H St NW, #200,
Washington, DC 20005
District Speech & Language Therapy specializes in speech and language solutions from children to adults in the Washington D.C and Northern Virginia area.