Differences Between English-Spanish Pronunciation Part 1 - Differences in stops d k t p

This is part 1 of a series that goes through all of the major differences of pronunciation between Spanish and English. It assumes the reader knows a little bit of knowledge of phonetic1 lingo and knows some very basic Spanish pronunciation - like that i is pronounced ee as in see and that ll is pronounced like an English y. To begin:

d and t:

In English, d and t are both stops2 that are created by placing the tongue on the alveolar ridge.3 In Spanish, d and t are also stops, but they have a less forceful explosion of air, and the tongue blocks the airflow by being placed on the upper teeth instead of on the alveolar ridge. Relatedly, the stops in Spanish are not aspirated as they are in English.4 So in English we say tea [thi] en español se dice ti [ti].

p and /k/ (k or hard c):

p and /k/ have the same oral articulation in Spanish as they do in English. The difference is that -once again- in Spanish there is the release of air at the end of the stops is gentle and the stops are not aspirated.

  1. If you know nothing about phonetics or the IPA system I recommend A Practical Introduction to Phonetics by Catford - The book contains a series of exercises that helps you learn how to make sounds found in languages/accents from all over the world []
  2. A stop is a consonant where the sound is created by blocking airflow and then releasing upon pressure build up. In English, p and b are stops that block airflow via the lips, while k,t, and d block airflow with the tongue. []
  3. If you don't know what the alveolar ridge is, take a minute to gain some anatomy awareness by slowly dragging your tongue from your top teeth up to the roof of your mouth back and forth. Do this a few times to get the feel for the shape of your mouth. Then start again from the top teeth. Just as you pass the gums you will find your tongue along a ridge like shape. This is the alveolar ridge. You can also find the alveolar ridge by silently thinking and mouthing the word dad while paying attention to where your tongue is. []
  4. Aspiration is when there is a pause between the explosion of the stop and the onset of the vibration of the following vowel. To test if you are aspirating your ti in Spanish, do the following exercise: rest your finger gently on your adam's apple and say the English Tea. Notice the delay between when you hear the T and when your throat starts vibrating for the vowel i. Now do the same for the Spanish ti. You should have no delay between the t and the i []

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