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5 Ways To Improve Your Accent In Spanish

You sound like a gringo! Haha!

Yup, it’s very possible that after 2 years of studying or more, somebody laughs at you while you're speaking Spanish and says “You sound like a gringo!” This has happened to me multiple times, and although I know the person saying it doesn’t mean me harm by mentioning it, it’s just funny to them.

But for me as a learner of Spanish, it sucks…

Luckily, nowadays I only hear the exact opposite, people tell me “You sound like a Puerto Rican” or the most common (which I find curious) “Ben, why do you sound like a Cuban?”

How did I go from being a gringo, to being told I speak with one of the most difficult accents in the Spanish world? That and more, in this article!

Summary: How To Improve Your Accent In Spanish

If you want to stop sounding like a gringo, here are the things you should be doing to progress your accent.

  1. Imitate native speakers

  2. Master the pronunciation of all vowels and consonants

  3. Get tons of input, listen to Spanish while you drive, shower, clean, get ready for bed, etc.

  4. Focus on the rhythm that is being used by a speaker, and imitate it

  5. Pay attention to how some consonants work in real life (S/D/P/V/B)

Read the following article to get all the information you need to put these tips into practice. If you work on these skills for 6 months, you will be at least 75% less gringo-sounding!

picture of two cartoon character woman - title that says "how to improve your pronunciation"

Table of Contents:

Tip #1 - Imitate Native Speakers

If you want to speak more like a native, you need to practice imitating them. I strongly believe that we as adults have a huge advantage that children don’t when it comes to learning a language.

That advantage, of course, is that we already can speak a language, and we do it almost perfectly - and intuitively. This means we understand grammar concepts, we just don’t ponder on them yet. We have a vast vocabulary, but we aren’t necessarily conscious of it.

The problem is, we have a default language, and our tongue, lips, and teeth are used to pronounce a very specific number of sounds that are used in our native language.

This is our greatest disadvantage. They say that babies make every single possible sound when trying to learn to talk.

This means that a baby born in the US makes the same sounds as a baby in China - but the amount of sounds they start to produce on a normal basis diminishes. And one day, the baby is a toddler and only pronounces the sounds of his native language, and forgets the rest.

Let’s talk specifically about how we can retrain our mouth’s muscle memory so that we can regain some of these benefits that a baby has.

Find Native Speakers With Accents You Like

The first step in this process comes way before practice. Know that, every dialect has its own pronunciation and it varies.

A person in Costa Rica won’t speak the same as somebody from Panama, nor will the Panamanians speak like somebody from Colombia - although all of these countries border each other.

So the first step is to find out “how you want to sound”. This can be based on two things:

1 - Practicality of the accent

For example, if you live near mostly Puerto Ricans, it would be most practical to be able to communicate with them in the easiest way possible.

2 - Your taste

If the sound of the Puerto Rican accent doesn’t do it for you, you can choose a dialect based on what you find most beautiful and interesting.

In any case, the people you imitate should have the accent that you want to acquire.

Watch Their Videos/Interviews At .75 Speed

Once you have a person who speaks with the accent you want to acquire - watch their videos at .75 speed on YouTube. You’ll notice how they pronounce their consonants. This will also help you acquire the rhythm with which they speak.

Mock Their Sentences

Once you have listened for a while to how they say consonants, you'll understand these pronunciation patterns.

Try and mock them, if they say “bueno yo siempre quise ser cantante” - pause the video and practice saying that phrase just as they did. If they have a certain intonation with some words, replicate it. Try and sound as much like them as possible.

Watch How Their Mouth Moves

One thing that most people don't think about - is how the mouth of the native speaker moves. In The Dominican Republic, for example, the people speak (generally) with a looser mouth than Americans.

They also “pop” certain words using their lips, usually at the end of their sentences. Whereas for example in Argentina, the words are pronounced with a stiffer mouth, or let’s say, more like Americans speak.

summary of the first tip given in the article

Tip #2 - Master Spanish Pronunciation By Watching Videos About it

One way you can understand this subject better is by watching videos like this one where they go over the "standard pronunciation" of each letter in the alphabet.

Pay attention to the sounds made and the mouth of the speaker when she says the letters.

This will help you understand exactly how to pronounce the letter in context.

Trust me, it’s much more difficult to try and imitate pronunciation with the same mouth movements of your native tongue than it is to imitate pronunciation when you are moving your mouth correctly.

Learn How Your Tongue Should Be Working While Talking

A lot of people have a hard time with the Roller R in Spanish. But before you say “I can’t roll my Rs” - take a minute and learn how to.

Rolling your R requires that you use your tongue in a very specific way. For some people, this is an intuitive concept, but for many - like myself, we have to really try to "study" how to do it before we rule ourselves as incapable.

Learn How To Move Your Lips Like A Native

Just like I mentioned earlier about the Dialect of The Dominican Republic being spoken with a looser mouth than we are used to.

This occurs in many Caribbean-influenced dialects in the Spanish-speaking world. When a person is speaking this way, their lips don’t do a lot of work.

In some Spanish countries, they have jokes about this. Multiple times when I would be in the childhood home of my ex-girlfriend in Panama.

Her mom yelled at her father “Raúl tienes que abrir la boca no te entendemos!”

Which means “Raul you have to open your mouth we don’t understand you!”

This is because he speaks a bit more Caribbean-like. And his lips seem almost numbed when you hear the way he talks.

summary of the second tip given in the article

Tip #3 - Input, Input, Input

The overall answer to the question “How can I improve my accent in Spanish” is input. You need to listen to the language often and for longer periods.

I would say 30 minutes a day (at least) if you want to improve your accent/acquire a new one.

But you should shoot for more if possible. This section will teach you how to get the input, even if you're a busy person

Podcasts/Music In The Car

If you drive 20 minutes every morning to get to work, and you start putting on a Duolingo Podcast, or videos from Dreaming Spanish - you’ll be getting 40 extra minutes of input a day.

This will shoot you forward in your ability to comprehend, and of course, speak like a native.

Videos From Channels Such as Dreaming Spanish On Lunch Break

Dreaming Spanish and Español Con María are both channels that produce wonderfully exciting and compelling content in Spanish for all levels.

If you have a 30-minute lunch break and you don’t have to do anything else - use this time for input.

You don’t have to aim 100% of your focus on the video while you eat, but every minute of hearing native speakers will get you closer to speaking like one.

One Episode of A Show Before Bed (In Spanish)

If this is something you can do and your spouse won’t go nuts having to hear Spanish every night - do it! Listening to your target language before bed is a super powerful tool to shoot you into the world of fluency.

It’s proven that in our sleep, we are processing the information received during the day.

In fact, a good night's sleep might be the difference between remembering 75% of what you studied that day and 10%. But getting input right before you go to sleep reminds your brain of the importance of the language, the words, and the pronunciation.

Also, this will help you to have your first DREAM IN SPANISH. Which is nuts the first time it happens.

a summary of the 3rd tip given in the article

Tip #4 - Focus On Rhythm

This tip is crucial. It took me 2 years of listening to many different accents in Spanish - always asking myself… hmm I don’t get what is so different about them.

This is because I thought of accents in English which are mainly composed of differences in the pronunciation of letters/words. For example, my mother who is from New Hampshire says “Caa” to say car or “Doa” to say door.

However, this is not the case in Spanish. The biggest differences in Spanish accents isn't how they say the vowels, rather, just a few consonants and the rhythm.

The Puerto Rican dialect is like “Ey PaPi que'e'la'que'ay yate llamé Die' Vece”

(Where I put capital letters they stress and “pop” the letter with their lips, whereas in other places they flow over the words)

Whereas in Buenos Aires, Argentina, many speak with almost the stereotypical Italian accent. For example “Ey cheee yo te he estado buscaaando, ¿sabés dónde está mi mamáa?

summary of the 4th tip given in the article

Tip #5 - Pay Attention To Real Life Consonants

Although you might have mastered the Spanish Consonants, that doesn’t mean you know a damn thing about Spanish consonants. Let me explain, the theory of how consonants are pronounced doesn’t necessarily apply to real life.

Once you read the following information it will completely change your view on Spanish consonants.

After you know this information, pay attention to how these consonants are pronounced the next time you listen to native content.

This doesn’t apply to Spanish teachers, even if they are native, because they will talk to you most formally and correctly as possible. But this is not how they speak with their friends and family.

How The D Works In Spanish

The D in Spanish is extremely soft. I remember asking a Venezuelan how to pronounce the word “Verdad” and he said “Say it again to me” I (Imitating other speakers) said “Vera” and he said, “That’s perfect!”

Sometimes this is the case, that the D completely disappears, but even when it doesn’t disappear 100% - it still sounds extremely light compared to the English D. I like to describe the sound as a “Th”. For example, here are the two ways of pronouncing the D.

When The D Disappears

He estado aquí por un rato, ya no estoy interesado (Standard Spanish)

He esta’o aquí por un rato, ya no estoy interesa’o (Real Life Spanish)

When The D Is “Well Pronounced”

He estado aquí por un rato, ya no estoy interesado (Standard Spanish)

He estatho aquí por un rato, ya no estoy interesatho (Real Life Spanish)

How The S Sounds In Spanish

The S like the D has two main ways of sounding. For the S it will likely either disappear or become aspirated. Some places do pronounce the S but it’s more commonly found in one of these two ways. Let’s take a look at a sentence to give us a better idea.

When The S Disappears

Ella está esperando que regrese (Standard Spanish)

Ella e’tá e’perando que regrese (Real Life Spanish)

When The S Is Aspirated

Ella está esperando que regrese (Standard Spanish)

Ella ehtá ehperando que regrese (Standard Spanish)

How The P Sounds In Spanish

Now I debated whether or not to add this, but it’s worth knowing for you. I personally didn’t know this until I was speaking with a Colombian and I heard him pronounce the word “Puedo” as “Ue’o”.

In places such as Colombia, the P can disappear. Let’s take a look at how this works in a sentence.

When The P Disappears In Spanish

¿Puedo ayudarte a poner las papas en tu bolsa? (Standard Spanish)

¿’ue’o ayudarte a’oner la’apas en tu bolsa? (Colombian Spanish - Sometimes)

How The B/V Works In Spanish

If you noticed, in that last example I gave of how the P works in some Colombian accents - I also changed the B in “Bolsa” to a W.

That wasn’t a mistake - in some places the B will sound like an English W. Another thing to note, if you didn’t know already, the standard B and V sound the exact same.

The sound they produce is somewhere in the middle between a B and a V - but sometimes it can…. CHANGE! DUN DUN DUUUHN. Let’s take a closer look.

When the B/V Becomes a W

Yo estaba buscando el bús (Standard Spanish)

Yo estawa wuscando el wús (Real Life Spanish)

The “Standard B/V”

Yo estavba vbuscando el vbús (Real Life Spanish)

When The B/V Are Non Standard (Either Sound Like A B Or A V)

Yo estaba buscando el bús (Some Dialects)

Yo estava buscando el bús (Some Dialects)

That last example shows how in some places, some words are pronounced as V and some as B - but the point is, they don't sound the same. For example, I have heard Argentinians call a “Bicho” a “Vicho” and a “Vulgaridad” a “Bulgaridad”.

How The Z Works In Spanish

I still to this day overpronounce my Z sometimes. I suppose this is why we must break these bad habits from day one. For example, in most countries you don’t say:

Taza - You say, Tasa

Corazón - You say, Corasón

Zapatos - You say, Sapatos

summary of the 5th tip given in the article

Conclusion: 5 Ways To Improve Your Accent In Spanish

The 5 ways to improve your accent in Spanish are to:

  1. Imitate Native Speakers (In Interviews, Podcasts, Etc.)

  2. Master Pronunciation Of Spanish Consonants and Vowels

  3. Get Tons of Input (Movies, Shows, Music, Podcasts, Etc.)

  4. Focus On The Rhythm of The Speakers

  5. Pay Attention To The Consonants That Are Often Pronounced “Non-Standard”

If you do all of these things for 3 months, at the very least - I can guarantee you that you will not sound SUPER GRINGO. If you do this for 1 year - you’ll impress many native speakers.

I know that not everybody wants to speak like a native, and many are afraid to imitate, it might feel disrespectful.

I ask you, though - would you prefer to talk to somebody in English who learned to pronounce words like a native, and is easy to understand..? Or would you prefer to talk to somebody who you have to ask “Excuse me? Can you repeat that?”.

Now one more question - have you ever thought “This person is speaking like a native, how disrespectful that she is imitating me”(?)

Probably not, we as native speakers love that, we praise the fact that the person has worked so hard to sound so natural in our language.

Other cultures do this too. Your imitation will be appreciated, nobody will ever say “Who do you think you are - speaking like my people?”

I hope this article helped get you in the right state of mind to learn the way people REALLY speak the Spanish language. The truth is, if your gringo accent is strong, it will be a lot harder to feel accepted into the culture of the country you're visiting (For example).

So let’s get to work today, and start making our way to native-like pronunciation!


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