Spanish pronunciation got your tongue?
But what about words that function as tongue twisters in and of themselves?
It’s no secret that the Spanish language has some words that seem impossible for English speakers to say.
Fortunately, they’re lots of fun to try to say… even if you don’t succeed at first.
So don’t let those tricky words scare you—instead, embrace them!
The following vocabulary list contains fifteen fun, difficult-to-say words that will help you increase your vocabulary and drill your pronunciation skills at the same time.
Practicing Vocabulary and Pronunciation at the Same Time
A broad vocabulary and good pronunciation are two highly important aspects of language learning, but language learners rarely work these two skills at the same time. It is, however, very possible to practice them together.
The words on this list target some tricky Spanish sounds. Therefore, studying them will not only help widen your vocabulary, it’ll also help you work important problem areas in your Spanish accent at the same time!
Plus, the words on this list are fun to say. Many of them sound beautiful, and several have interesting meanings. Using these words will make you sound more like a native speaker, and will also increase your conversational range.
Tricky Spanish Sounds
The Spanish language has many difficult sounds for English-speaking learners. Sometimes the sounds are hard because they don’t exist in English at all. At other times, Spanish pronunciation can be difficult because a letter that makes one sound in English makes a completely different sound in Spanish. This post will specifically focus on six difficult Spanish sounds:
- R: Spanish has two r sounds. A single r makes a soft, gently rolled sound, similar to a very quick English “d.” Two r’s together, or a single r at the beginning of a word, are pronounced like a trill. Here’s a helpful article to learn to pronounce the Spanish r.
- C and z: In Spanish, like in English, the letter c can make two different sounds. When followed by a, o, u or a consonant, a c makes a “hard” sound like an English “k.” When followed by an e or an i, the c makes a “soft” sound. But watch out—a soft Spanish c sounds different depending on where in the world you are!
In Latin America, the soft c sounds like an English “s.” In many parts of Spain, however, you must lisp a soft c—it takes on the sound of an English “th,” like at the end of the word “tooth.” Wherever you are in the world, the z follows the pronunciation rules for the soft c. In Spanish, there’s no sound like the English “zz” at the end of “buzz,” so avoid pronouncing your z’s like that.
- Double l: In Spanish, a double l makes a very different sound than it does in English. It sounds like an English “y” or “j” (except in some parts of Argentina and Uruguay, where a double l makes a distinctive “sh” sound).
- Silent h: Regardless of where it appears in a word, an h in Spanish is always silent. (The only exceptions are when it appears after a c or an s, or in some foreign imported words like hámster or hobby).
- Vowels: In English, each vowel can make a multitude of sounds. That’s not the case in Spanish! Except in the cases of umlauts or diphthongs, each vowel in Spanish makes exactly one sound: a, e, i, o and u sound like “ah,” “eh,” “ee,” “oh,” “oo.” All the time! When pronouncing your vowels, make sure to keep the pronunciation standard and consistent throughout the word.
- Diphthongs: One exception to the above stated rule is that when two vowels are next to each other, they’ll often combine to form a new sound. In these cases, it’s important not to pronounce each vowel separately, but rather, to combine them. For example, the word piel (skin) should be pronounced “pyel” rather than “pee-ehl.”
For more information about some difficult Spanish sounds, check out this article on the subject.
You can also practice difficult words by hearing them in context with FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos, like music videos, commercials, news and inspiring talks, and turns them into Spanish learning experiences.
Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.
FluentU has a wide variety of videos—topics like soccer, TV shows, business, movies and even magical realism, as you can see here:
FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.
Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.
The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and it recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning the same video.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store for iOS and Android devices.
15 Fun Spanish Words to Work Your Pronunciation Skills
Ready to practice your pronunciation skills? Click on each word in this list to hear its proper pronunciation.
1. Entretenerse: to entertain oneself, to pass time
The verb entretenerse is great for practicing r sounds, particularly the tricky “tr” sound. When pronouncing it, focus on standardizing all of the e’s so that they sound the same. In addition to being a reflexive verb, entretenerse is also irregular; its conjugation pattern follows that of the more common verb tener (to have).
En mi tiempo libre me gusta entretenerme con mi móvil. (In my free time, I like to entertain myself with my cell phone.)
2. Acariciar: to stroke/caress
The verb acariciar can refer to the action of petting an animal, or to a friendly or romantic stroke or caress. This word contains the two different Spanish c sounds—the first c in the word makes a hard sound like an English “k,” whereas the second sounds like an English s (in Latin American Spanish) or the “th” in “tooth” (European Spanish).
Also, focus on the vowel pronunciation. The first two a sounds should make the same short “ah” sound. The ia diphthong at the end of the word should make one combined vowel sound, similar to the way an English-speaker would pronounce “ya.”
La muchacha quiere acariciar el perro. (The girl wants to pet the dog.)
3. La escasez: shortage/scarcity
The noun escasez is great for practicing c, z and s sounds. The c in the middle makes a hard c sound; the z at the end changes depending on which dialect of Spanish you’re using. If you’re lisping your z’s (like in most areas of Spain), make sure the last z sounds like the “th” in “tooth.” If you’re not lisping your z’s (like in Latin America), that z should sound just like the s that comes before it. Either way, avoid making the common English-speaker mistake of pronouncing it like the “zz” in “buzz.”
La gente está preocupada por la escasez de alimentos. (The people are concerned because of the scarcity of food.)
4. El heredero/la heredera: heir
This word is highly useful if you happen to be a fan of “Juego de Tronos” (“Game of Thrones”). And even if you aren’t, it’s a great word for practicing pronunciation. Don’t get lazy—all three of those e’s should make the same short “eh” sound. At the same time, focus on those two unrolled r sounds, which should sound almost like English “d”s. And, finally, don’t forget that the h at the beginning is silent!
Este niño es el heredero del trono de España. (This boy is the heir to the Spanish throne.)
5. Reñir: to scold, to argue
This short word manages to pack in several difficult Spanish sounds. The r at the beginning of reñir should be rolled, while the one at the end is softer and unrolled. Rolled r’s at the beginning of words can be difficult, but they’re also helpful for practice; take your time getting the rolled r sound, and then add the rest of the word once you have the sound down pat.
Reñir is a stem-changing verb. When conjugating it in the present tense, change the e to an i, as in: Los niños riñen. (The children argue.)
La profesora tiene que reñirle al estudiante todos los días porque no deja de hablar. (The professor has to scold the student every day because he does not stop talking.)
6. El hallazgo: a discovery/finding
This word begins with a silent h and also contains a double l. Remember to pronounce it like a “y” or “j”! Also, the z should sound like an “s” or a “th” (depending on where you are in the world), but never a “zz.”
Los hallazgos más importantes del científico se publicaron en una revista. (The scientist’s most important findings were published in a magazine.)
7. El aburrimiento: boredom
In addition to working the double r sound, this word contains the common suffix -miento. Generally, this suffix is used to turn a verb into a corresponding noun. In this case, combining the suffix -miento with the verb aburrir (to bore) creates aburrimiento (boredom). Because -miento is so common, it’s important to pronounce it correctly: the ie should sound like “yeh,” and the whole suffix should sound like “myehn-toh.” Some other examples of common Spanish words with -miento are casamiento (a wedding), comportamiento (behavior) and conocimiento (knowledge).
La clase es un aburrimiento total. (The class is a total bore.)
8. La purpurina: glitter
Okay, this word doesn’t have many practical applications unless you’re an arts and crafts teacher or a makeup artist. Still, it’s fun to say and great for practicing your vowels. Many English speakers get lazy on their u sounds, and especially ur sounds. Make sure this syllable isn’t taking on the “er” sound like it does in the English word “turtle.” Your u should be a fully round “oo” sound both times.
Al muchacho le gusta hacer manualidades con purpurina. (The little boy likes making crafts with glitter.)
9. El equilibrio: balance
This is a great word to focus on your vowel pronunciation. The u in equilibrio is silent, so the first two i’s in the word should have the same clear, consistent “ee” sound. Meanwhile, that first e should sound like “eh”—don’t make the mistake of pronouncing it like the “e” in the English word “equilibrium”! Finally, the last syllable contains a diphthong, so it should sound more like “bryoh” than “bree-oh.”
Es importante mantener equilibrio entre la vida personal y la vida laboral. (It is important to maintain a balance between personal life and work life.)
10. La llovizna: drizzle
This is—in my opinion—a beautiful-sounding word, as well as a highly useful one! Remember to pronounce the double l at the beginning of the word like a “y” or “j.” Also, as mentioned previously, the z may sound like an English “s” (Latin American Spanish) or a “th” (European Spanish), but never like the English “z” as in “buzz.”
Paró la llovizna a las seis de la tarde. (The drizzle stopped at 6:00 in the afternoon.)
11. El relámpago: lightning
Here’s another example of a difficult word that starts with a rolled r sound. As with reñir, take your time getting the trilled r down pat, and once you can feel yourself making the sound correctly, add the rest of the word to it.
La niña vio un relámpago y escuchó trueno. (The girl saw lightning and heard thunder.)
12. La albahaca: basil
Many English speakers can deal with the silent h at the beginning of Spanish words. (After all, there are tons of English words with silent “h”s at the beginning.) But how do you deal with a silent h in the middle of the word? Listen to the pronunciation of albahaca by clicking the word above to get a sense of how it ought to be pronounced. At the same time, notice how the speaker keeps all four a vowels perfectly constant.
¿Vas a echar albahaca a la sopa? (Are you going to put basil in the soup?)
13. El terciopelo: velvet
The tricky syllable in this word is the -cio. Remember to lisp the c like an English “th” if you’re speaking European Spanish. Then, focus on the diphthong sound of the io. It should be one quick, combined vowel sound—almost like the English syllable “yo”—rather than two defined “ee-oh” vowel sounds.
La mujer lleva un hermoso vestido de terciopelo. (The woman is wearing a beautiful velvet dress.)
This highly useful word starts off with a soft c sound—remember to lisp it if you’re speaking European Spanish—followed by a diphthong that makes a “yoo” sound. After you get through that first syllable, focus on maintaining the same pronunciation for each a sound.
Soy ciudadana de los Estados Unidos. (I am a citizen of the United States.)
15. El murciélago: the bat (animal)
Once again we see the ie diphthong that came up in aburrimiento. As before, make sure you’re pronouncing the two vowels as one cohesive sound, not as a distinct i followed by an e. This one is a little tricky because while you work on the diphthong sound, you’ll also have to practice the soft r and lisped c that come immediately before it.
¡Hay un murciélago en la casa! (There’s a bat in the house!)
Looking for more difficult-to-pronounce words?
Check out this hilarious video and hear some Spanish learners attempting to pronounce Spanish words.
The video will make you laugh, and you can also test the pronunciation tips you’ve learned in this post!
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