The rules of Spanish pronunciation are so much easier to learn than those of many other languages. In addition, the phonetic nature of writing in Spanish certainly makes pronunciation a whole lot easier for learners compared to languages like English, which seem almost designed to trip up non-native speakers. In Spanish you just have to say what you see, within a framework of some straightforward pronunciation rules.
Despite this, students who are taking Spanish courses with Clic, a leading language school, still tell us there are words they struggle with. Some, admittedly, are fairly obscure words that you’re not likely to use with regularity but others are everyday words that you’ll be hard-pushed to not use every now and then.
Here are the ten hardest words to pronounce in Spanish, and a few tips to help you get them right.
A word that for many does what it says on the tin: difícil is just plain difficult for many to get the emphasis right. As ever, the clue is in the accent and once you grasp this it should be fácil!
Take it slowly, with the word in front of you, and it’s not that hard to say. Try saying it off the top of your head in the course of a conversation, or reading it without sounding more like a ‘Speak and Spell’ machine than a native speaker – it certainly poses some challenges.
But, what is it? It’s the waterproofing that’s used on top of flat roofs – and if you’ve visited Spain you can vouch for the number of flat roofs there.
We can have a look at the ‘mente’ words immediately after tackling inmediatamente. Have a close look at the word and you’ll see that it is, in fact, an ‘n’ not an ‘m’ immediately after the opening ‘I’.
There are many multi-syllable words with -mente at the end that on the page hit you like a brick wall. The secret is to practice by speaking slowly until they confidently roll off the tongue. Here are a few to start with: mayoritariamente, sanguinariamente, anticonstitucionalmente, estadísticamente and fotosintéticamente.
5. Words starting with ‘h’
The silent Spanish ‘h’ is really hard to drop for English speakers. This makes forming the past tense (with he, has, ha, hemos etc.) a veritable booby trap for many. Holiday makers (or should that be ‘oliday makers’) beware – it’s not ‘helado’ but ‘elado’ when you ask for that ice-cream.
Esternocleidomastoideo is the name of a muscle. If you can say it without making a mistake you can consider yourself a native speaker – it’s used as a trabalenguas (or tongue twister) in many regions of Spain.
7. Proper nouns
The Mexican volcano Popocatépetl is a word of Amerindian origin that sees even Spanish speakers stumble after Popocat-. English speakers will typically replace Spanish pronunciation with something sounding closer to home when saying the names Perez or Felix.
8. The double ‘rr’
Words like arroz or perro can be hard to pronounce correctly. One trick is to divide the ‘rr’: ar-ROZ, per-RO. Another is to use the same tongue flap for the ‘rr’ that you use for the ‘tt’ in “butter.” Practice it on ferrocarril!
Another tongue twister that gets those parallel pipes all wrapped up.
You grind this for me should actually mean you pronounce this for me!
Improve your pronunciation
Listen to Spanish speakers, practice your conversation, take a spoken Spanish test online, listen to Spanish audio books, watch films and keep on trying: you will get there.
Tips to develop your confidence with pronunciation
Practice saying words as they are spoken by native speakers
Free downloads of Spanish speakers to listen to and emulate