Spanish Vowel Tuning

Spanish Vowel Tuning

The recording below contains the five vowels of Spanish.  Listen closely to each sound and try to mimic the pronunciation out loud to yourself.
The vowel sounds in the above audio occur in the following order:

a…i…u…e…o

Note that these letters differ from those used by the English writing system to represent these vowel sounds.  The script above is used in both the Spanish writing system and the international phonetic alphabet to represent these sounds.  The Flow of Spanish uses these same sound-script associations for the Spanish vowels.In this section, you will study each of these five vowels in detail and practice tuning your pronunciation to match them exactly.

/a/

  • This sound is slightly more OPEN (tongue lower in mouth) and FRONT (tongue closer to teeth) than the vowel sound in the American English words “not”, “pot”, “hot”, and “tot”.
  • There is a strong English tendency to close this vowel (as explained in the next section), so be sure to always exaggerate its openness by lowering your jaw as much as possible when saying this sound.   
The audio below first reviews this Spanish vowel sound and then compares the English and Spanish Pronunciation of the name “Ana.”  Mimic my pronunciation exactly so that you can feel the difference.

/i/

  • This sound has the exact same tongue position as the vowel sound in the English words “see”, “knee”, “he” and “she.”
  • Typically, when this sound occurs in Spanish, it is shorter in length than in English.  The audio example below reviews this vowel sound then compares the pronunciations of the English word “see” and the Spanish word “sí”.
http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F36513685%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-sNCAx&auto_play=false&show_artwork=false&color=ff0000

/u/

  • This sound has the exact same tongue position as the vowel sound in the English word “who”, “shoe”, “two”, “zoo” etc. 
  • Typically, when this sound occurs in Spanish, it is shorter in length than in English (Listen to example between English “two” and Spanish “tú”).
  • Typically, this sound is rounded in English, meaning you will curl your lips at the end of the sound.  Rounding does NOT occur in Spanish (This is explained in more detail in the next section).  
http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F36513688%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-ECbh6&auto_play=false&show_artwork=false&color=ff0000

/e/

  • This sound is slightly more OPEN (tongue lower in mouth) than the vowel sound in the English words “hey”, “bay”, “say”, “lay” etc. (Listen to audio example below comparing the English word “say” and the Spanish word “sé “.)
  • This sound is slightly more CLOSE (tongue higher in mouth) than the vowel sound in the English words “head”, “bed”, “said”, “lead” etc.  (Listen to the example below comparing the English word “said” and the Spanish word “sed”).  
  • Typically, the English vowel in the words “hey”, “bay”, “say” and “lay” are diphthongized with the vowel /i/ (Dipthongization is explained in more detail on the next page).  This does NOToccur in Spanish.  

/o/

  • This sound is slightly more OPEN (tongue lower in mouth) than the vowel sound in the English words “so”, “go”, “toe”, “know” etc.  
  • Typically, when this sound occurs in English, it is DIPHTHONGIZED with the /u/ vowel (Diphthongization is explained in more detail on the next page).  This does NOT happen in Spanish. 
  • Typically, the English sound is rounded, meaning you will curl your lips at the end of the sound.  Rounding does NOT occur in Spanish.
  • Listen for these differences in the audio file below.

Do not be frustrated if you are unable to distinguish or recreate all of these differences yet.  Your perception and pronunciation will become more accurate with exposure and practice.  Also, do not fret if you do not immediately understand these explanations; it will make more sense to you as you become more familiar with Spanish sounds.In the next section, we will review all the major vowel mispronunciation tendencies of English speakers.  By understanding the things you are inclined to do wrong, you will have a better sense of the sound difference between English and Spanish.  This understanding will strengthen as you become more familiar with Spanish sounds through song training and general exposure, so as you develop personal insights into the nuances of Spanish sound, I recommend referring back to this section regularly to make sense of these insights.

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