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Improving accent in Spanish (for interpreting and in general)
Thread poster: hfp
hfp
United States
Local time: 21:15
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sep 30, 2008

Hello, everyone. I was wondering if anyone had any tips on improving one's accent in Spanish, especially for people who have grown up speaking American English. I understand that there are several accents in Spanish, with minor and more noticeable differences in some regions, but basically it seems like people down here in Latin America pretty much speak the same way, with respect to pronunciation. I am in Santiago, Chile, and sure, it is noticeable when someone does not have a Chilean accent, (a Colombian person for example), but it is still obvious that they are a native speaker of Spanish. However, when I speak I know people know right away that I am not from a Spanish speaking country.

I appreciate your help.


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 18:15
Spanish to English
+ ...
Some tips Sep 30, 2008

Essentially, detach your idea of what the letters sound like from their pronunciations in English.

There are only 5 vowels. They are all pronounced differently from their English counterparts. Make them pure (for example the word "no" should sound quite different in Spanish and in English). Don't let any of your vowels slide into a schwa.

Be aware that at a minimum, b, d, g, h, j, l, p, r, t, and v are pronounced differently than in English. For example, "ten" in Spanish (familiar second person imperative of "tener") should not sound the same as the English number "ten," not only because of the vowel, but also because the "t" is not pronounced the same.

There is no "ng" or "nk" sound in Spanish as there is in English (as in "bang" or "bank"). So, for example, banco is not "bank-o" but "ban-co", and mango in Spanish is not "mang-o" as we pronounce it in English, but "man-go".

If you haven't mastered the Spanish "r", work on it until you do, and make sure your "r" and "rr" are distinguishable. The "j" is also difficult for many English-speakers, and getting it right can go a long way toward improving your accent.

And make sure you're stressing the right syllable in multi-syllable words.

[Edited at 2008-10-01 16:05]


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 18:15
Spanish to English
+ ...
Intonation Oct 1, 2008

And now some words about intonation, from A. Bryson Gerrard's Cassell's Colloquial Spanish (formerly titled Beyond the Dictionary in Spanish).

[I]ntonation is always one of the most important things to master, in any language, if one is going to be easily understood; especially for sudden remarks, made before they have had time to attune their ears to your way of speaking. Get the tune, the line of phrase dead right and you will probably be understood even if your vowels and consonants are wrong; conversely, spend no end of time getting the latter right but say them with an intonation which no Hispanic would ever use, and the chances are that he will wonder what on earth you are talking about.


Mr. Gerrard asks the reader to imagine how we English speakers would say an incredulous "You gave it away?"

No Hispanic speaker is likely to go gyrating around on one vowel sound
e keeps the pitch pure in the same way as the sound; one vowel, one note; one monosyllable, one even pitch.[/quote]
Think, for example, of "¡Gooooooooooooooooooooool! compared to "GOAL!" in English. Try it out loud to hear the difference in intonation.
They rarely wobble on their notes though they may sometimes drag them along the straight line, e.g. ¡E-e-e-so es!; we are quite likely to do a bit of fluctuation on our equivalent "Tha-a-a-ats it!"


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Juan Jacob  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 18:15
French to Spanish
+ ...
Not at all... Oct 1, 2008

You say:

"...people down here in Latin America pretty much speak the same way..."

1.- Not only "down here". Central America, Mexico, Cuba, U.S.A., Puerto Rico, etc. are "up there" from Chile. Chile's accent is very different from Venezuela, or Argentina, you do really know that.

2.- What is your point? A Mexican will right away notice you're not Mexican, so a Colombian, or somebody from L.A. Why do you want to have "local" accent? That's impossible, unless you want to live and work there forever.


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Jonathan Faydi  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:15
Dutch to French
+ ...
Audio books Oct 1, 2008

Hi Hfp,

There's one methode which works wonders with me and which I have extensively used to improve my accent in English and Dutch (my 2 foreign languages). First you should find a book which you like a lot and make sure that this book is also available in audio format.

Then you should lesson carefully to the recording, paying attention to the pronunciation and intonation, and try to repeat what's said, recording yourself with a voice-recorder. Repeat this until the chapter you are studying sounds (almost) like the recording.

This method allowed me to tremendously improve my accent in the above-mentioned languages...

Jonathan
www.tolk-frans.eu


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:15
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
A Spanish-speaking boyfriend/girlfriend... Oct 1, 2008

Sorry folks, I know it does not sound very academic, but it is a method that has proven its effectiveness in the history of mankind. Yes, I know it's something you can't control: it either happens or it does not.

You don't only have a chance to improve the language every day and in many different situations, but you also get to know the Spanish-speaking country from the inside, with the real people, as a native and not as a tourist, and have a first-hand experience of the culture that makes the substrate of the language.

However, I discourage to use this method if you are in a love relationship already.


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hfp
United States
Local time: 21:15
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
generalization, I know Oct 1, 2008

Juan Jacob wrote:

You say:

"...people down here in Latin America pretty much speak the same way..."

1.- Not only "down here". Central America, Mexico, Cuba, U.S.A., Puerto Rico, etc. are "up there" from Chile. Chile's accent is very different from Venezuela, or Argentina, you do really know that.

2.- What is your point? A Mexican will right away notice you're not Mexican, so a Colombian, or somebody from L.A. Why do you want to have "local" accent? That's impossible, unless you want to live and work there forever.


I was afraid this would get to somebody. You are right. I didn't mean anything by it.


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:15
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Consonant assimilations Oct 1, 2008

GoodWords wrote:

There is no "ng" or "nk" sound in Spanish as there is in English (as in "bang" or "bank"). So, for example, banco is not "bank-o" but "ban-co", and mango in Spanish is not "mang-o" as we pronounce it in English, but "man-go".


This is inaccurate. A failure to make consonant assimilations is one of the things that contributes to a non-native accent in Spanish. A written Spanish 'n' is pronounced differently depending on the consonant that immediately follows it - in rapid, fluent speech this is the case even when the 'n' is in a preceding word .

Spanish spelling represents the phonemic level very well, but Spanish, like all languages, is more complex on the phonetic level. Accuracy on the phonetic level is key to acquiring a native-like accent. For improving your accent in Spanish, a book on Spanish pronunciation written by experts on Spanish phonetics, or help from a teacher with training in phonetics, can be very helpful.




[Edited at 2008-10-01 22:44]


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 18:15
Spanish to English
+ ...
Thanks Oct 1, 2008

Thanks for the correction.

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Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:15
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
read out loud Oct 2, 2008

Like with a lot of things, one of the keys is to practice practice practice. I find that reading texts out loud to yourself (preferably in an environment where you can exercise your voice in different ways, repeat things, overenunciate, etc. without feeling embarrassed) is a useful tool, because you don't have to be simultaneously worrying about picking the words and putting them together in the right fashion.

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Alexandra Goldburt
Local time: 16:15
English to Russian
+ ...
Yes, audio books! Oct 2, 2008

Jonathan Faydi wrote:

Hi Hfp,

There's one methode which works wonders with me and which I have extensively used to improve my accent in English and Dutch (my 2 foreign languages). First you should find a book which you like a lot and make sure that this book is also available in audio format.

Then you should lesson carefully to the recording, paying attention to the pronunciation and intonation, and try to repeat what's said, recording yourself with a voice-recorder. Repeat this until the chapter you are studying sounds (almost) like the recording.

This method allowed me to tremendously improve my accent in the above-mentioned languages...

Jonathan
www.tolk-frans.eu


I cannot agree more. Check public library for audio books! I don't know where you live, but Los Angeles Public library has a very rich collection of books on tape in Spanish.

I listen to them in the car, transforming stuck-in-traffic time into learning time. Works wonders!


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hfp
United States
Local time: 21:15
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
audio books Oct 3, 2008

I really like this idea of audio books. I'm going to look for the audio version of one of my favorite books. That should help a lot. Thanks for the idea.

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Jonathan Faydi  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 01:15
Dutch to French
+ ...
Accent Oct 3, 2008

And remember, having an accent is fine, even as an interpreter, as long as you speak clearly.

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Jean-Pierre Bergez Saretzki  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:15
English to Spanish
Pronunciation vs. accent Oct 3, 2008

I see from previous posting that these concepts are used somehow loosely.

In Spanish, most words will have only one way of pronouncing them, however the same word spoken out by an Argentinean, Colombian, Mexican or Spaniard will sound differently because of the accent and intonation used. On the other hand, in Spanish, some of most clear examples of different pronunciation (not accent) are to do with the sounds /z/, /c/, /s/ or /y/, /ll/.

I have a terrible Spanish accent when speaking English, but my pronunciation is good, so I can make myself understood easily. Accent is not much of a problem. The range of accents among English or Spanish native speakers varies a lot from one country to another or from one region to another in the same country.

Once you are an adult and your vocal chords have settled, it becomes very difficult to change your accent to that of another language compare with changing your accent to that of a variant of your own language.

As a Spanish speaker, I find very frustrating not to be able to copy the accent of an English speaker when I speak English, but able to imitate an English speaker speaking Spanish.

Some people, like actors, will eventually manage to do so by training with the right professional. I can see a great improvement in people like Antonio Banderas or Penélope Cruz, even though traces of Spanish accent are still there.

If changing your accent is what you really want, then I would suggest that you follow the same route as an actor would do. However, if improving your pronunciation is what you are after, any of the advice given by others should be helpful.


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MarleneBM
United States
Local time: 19:15
English to Spanish
It will always be that way Oct 4, 2008

At least you are a child and you learned any language on an early stage of your life, people will ALWAYS knows you are not native of their country, regardless of your language. I do speak Spanish and I can go to at least 15 countries that speaks Spanish and they will know righ away I'm not from their country, that's because of intonation, local words that in one country means one thing and in other means ....well, another, being both countries Spanish speakers. An England native will tell appart an american at least the american is a great impersonator or viceversa, on Latin, South, North America, Spain and the Caribbean is the same, you can tell appart people from one country to another in most cases. You can try to improve your pronunciation, yes, that's very smart, those r's and ñ's are difficult ones in Spanish, aren't they?, but no matter how much do you improve a native will always knows that you don't "belong" to their country and that your native language is other but Spanish, at leat I can tell appart a person who is not a native Spanish speaker in a flash, even if that person speaks almost a perfect Spanish in terms of pronunciation. My daughter speaks two languages like a native on both but that's because she grow up in an Spanish/English environment in where we switched from one language to another all the time as well as did the TV, their friends, etc, she thinks in both languages and dreams in both languages, if she is in the American continent or in Spain people will know she's one "of them", they probably won't know exactly from what country but a native speaker for sure, perfect intonation, pronunciation, idiomatic phrases etc, she has a T for every language, an R, etc...if we are on the US people will know she's part "of them" because of her perfect English (intonation/pronunciation/sayings/etc).

I learned my English being an adult and it shows, I'm a translator from English to Spanish and not viceversa; I won't dare, everything but in particular my pronunciation shows that I'm not a native although I can communicate pretty well, what helped me the most with the pronunciation of some really hard words was watching English tv all the time, w/o excuses, so confortable sounds kind of "conftebol" and not con-for-ta-ble just like that (Spanish speakers should known what I'm talking about) but after certain point I won't waste my time trying to talk like a native because I know I will fool no one.

You may don't realize it yet, but your accent, your intonation, in a foreing language, is part of your charme.

[Edited at 2008-10-04 09:32]


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