In this article, I’m going to share 7 hacks to help you sound like a native Spanish speaker.
Now, I’m not a native Spanish speaker. But I’ve often been accused of being one.
Here’s what I mean-
Several times when I’ve been traveling in Latin America, after talking to somebody in Spanish for a minute or two, afterwards they’ve asked me, “Oh, are you from Spain”, or “Are you from Argentina?”
I think the reason they ask me if I’m from those countries is partially because I’m white, and so it’s a little more realistic in their mind. But also, maybe I don’t talk like a Dominican, but still speak Spanish well enough that they could believe I’m a native Spanish speaker.
So that’s been kind of interesting, and it’s kind of proved that my approach can indeed help you sound like a native Spanish speaker.
Now, let’s get into the 7 hacks to help you sound like a native speaker.
Hack #1: Use Pure Vowel Sounds
The first hack I’m going to share (it’s first because it’s the most important one), is this:
If you want to sound like a native Spanish speaker, you gotta use pure vowel sounds.
Vowel sounds in Spanish don’t ever change. In English, they change all the time. For example, an “a” can make about 5-10 different sounds in English. But in Spanish, an “a” only makes 1 sound.
If you learn what that one sound is in Spanish, and then you always make that same sound, you’re well on your way.
The 5 vowels, the names, and the sounds go like this:
- “a” sounds like “ah”
- “e” sounds like “eh”
- “i” sounds like “ee”
- “o” sounds like “oh”
- “u” sounds like “oo”
If you learn those five sounds and you can just do them consistently, then you’re about halfway to sounding like a native Spanish speaker.
Again, the vowels are in every single word. So once you learn how to do those correctly, it’s going to make a gigantic difference.
For example, for “a” think of the words “mala” or “hasta”. That’s the “ah” sound every time.
For “e”, think of “que” or “de”. Same sound every time.
For “i”, think of “si” or “mi”. The “ee” sound every time.
For “o”, the words “no” or “solo.” It’s “oh,” and it never changes.
With the “u” you’ve got “tu” or “su”. Same “oo” sound every time.
And so on.
Notice how each of those vowels (whatever it is) sounds exactly the same every time.
You gotta learn those 5 vowel sounds and get consistent with them. I’ll talk a little later about how to get consistent with them, but that’s hack # 1.
Hack #2: Pronouncing The “D”
This might not be one of the first things that comes to mind in terms of Spanish pronunciation, but it’s really, really important.
How do you pronounce the “d” in Spanish?
Hint: It’s not like an English “d” (see “r” below).
Most gringos are going to pronounce it completely wrong. They’ll pronounce it like “duh,” but that’s not right.
It’s actually closer to a “th” sound than it is to a “d” sound, but it’s kind of in between. It’s like a “th,” but a lot less breathy. It may seem weird at first, so you’re gonna have to listen and repeat, listen and repeat.
Here are a few examples:
“Nada,” “dónde, dinero”. When I pronounce those words, I’m not saying “duh” like a hard “d” at all. I’m saying it more like “the”.
(If you want to hear me pronounce examples, just watch the video above where I walk you through it.)
Hack #3: Doing the Spanish “R” Correctly
You’re probably a little more familiar with this one.
Hack #3 is you’ve got to learn the Spanish “r.”
So, how do you do the Spanish “r”? Well, it’s not like an English “r”. It’s not “errr” right?
There’s none of this “errr”, that doesn’t exist in Spanish.
So what you do instead is similar to an English “d”. But not just any English “d”. It’s more like in the middle of certain words like “muddy” or “Eddie”.
That’s what the Spanish “r” sounds like.
So, a couple of examples:
Try saying that with the “d” sound like in those English words above (muddy/Eddie). (And if you want to hear me pronounce it, watch the video above.)
That is the Spanish “r.”
The Spanish “d” and the Spanish “r” are kind of funny because the Spanish “r” sounds like an English “d,” and so the Spanish “d” doesn’t sound like an English “d,” right? That’s a really important distinction.
Once you learn those 2 letters, and the vowels, you’re pretty far towards sounding like a native Spanish speaker!
Hack #4: Refine Your Spanish “T”
The fourth hack that I wanted to share is the letter “t.”
So, in English we push a lot of air through the “t”. Think of “terrible,” “terrific”. So it has all this air going through it.
But in Spanish, you don’t push nearly as much air through it. You back way off, and you soften it way down. You also put your tongue a little further forward behind your teeth.
“Tu” vs “to”. Practice the difference between the English word (lots of breath, tongue further back), and the Spanish word (very little breath, tongue further forward).
That’s kind of a common theme. There are several letters in Spanish where you kind of back off and don’t put as much air through it. But the “t” is perhaps the most notable of those.
Hack #5: Work on Your Spanish “L”
Another high-yield consonant is “L”. And this is hack #5 — work on your “L”.
I think the easiest way to illustrate this is the word “El”. It’s a word in both English and Spanish, but the pronunciation is much different.
Basically the Spanish version of the “L” is much snappier and shorter, while the English version is drawn out and kind of slurred.
In English you also do it way back in your throat, while in Spanish it’s much further forward–kind of halfway forward on your tongue, or even further.
See if you can practice the difference between those two words (el/el), in English and Spanish.
(I shared some additional examples and went over the pronunciation of “el/el” in the video as well.)
Hack #6: Emphasize the Correct Syllable
The sixth hack–and this one is kind of a big picture thing–is to emphasize the correct syllable.
If you learn how to know which syllable to emphasize, even when you’re just reading something, that’s super helpful!
There are actually only two rules that you need to learn, to know which syllable to emphasize when you’re reading in Spanish.
So, what are those two rules?
- Any word that ends in N, S, or a vowel you emphasize the second-to-last syllable.
“Habla” – notice it ends with an “a”, so you emphasize the second-to-last syllable.
“Caminan” – ends with an “n”, so the same rule applies.
- If the word ends in any other consonant besides “n” or “s,” then you emphasize the last syllable.
“Hablar” (to talk) – ends with an “r,” which means you would emphasize the last syllable.
“Señor” – again ends with an “r”, so same rule.
“Total” – ends with another consonant, so you emphasize the last syllable.
So those are the two rules you need to know.
And of course, if it breaks those rules, there will be an accent mark to tell you what syllable to emphasize.
Now you know exactly what syllable to emphasize on any word that you’re reading. Which is a nice segue into the 7th and final hack…
Hack #7: Read Out Loud – Slowly
The final hack that I wanted to share–and this is the best way to practice your Spanish pronunciation–is to read out loud slowly.
Get a newspaper, get whatever you can find, and read out loud slowly.
Now that you’ve learned a few of those really key pronunciation points that can help you sound like a native Spanish speaker, as you’re reading out loud, you can kind of check yourself, check yourself, check yourself. Slow down and just listen to those pure vowel sounds.
Remember, that was the first hack, so you can always listen to the pure vowel sounds and make sure you’re doing the “A-E-I-O-U”.
But also listen to a few of those key consonants to see if you’re kind of doing them the way you learned here.
Conclusion – Sounding Like a Native Spanish Speaker
If you practice and follow these 7 hacks that I’ve shared, you’ll very quickly sound a lot more like a native Spanish speaker.
You may even have people ask you if you’re from Spain, or Argentina. 🙂
So work on the vowels, work on those specific consonants, and practice reading out loud slowly. As you gain confidence, you can gradually speed up. But start slowly so you can really hear yourself, and check yourself.
Reading out loud a few minutes each day is a great habit to help you improve your pronunciation, and improve your overall Spanish abilities.
If you want to refine your pronunciation even further, I also have a blog post that goes over all the essential Spanish pronunciation rules, as well as a Spanish pronunciation video that covers those same rules.
Thanks for reading!