Top 10 Hardest Spanish Words and How to Pronounce Them [With Audio]
Have you come across some hard Spanish words that get your tongue tied?
In this article, you’ll learn how to correct those words and aspects of Spanish pronunciation that English speakers struggle with the most.
I’ll point you to the 10 most difficult Spanish words to pronounce, each with a tip to master them and other words like them.
And the audio will help you practice your way to beautiful pronunciation!
- Top 10 Hardest Words to Pronounce in Spanish
- 1. Impermeabilizante (Waterproofing)
- 2. Ferrocarril (Railroad)
- 3. Desarrolladores (Developers)
- 4. Difícil , Fácil (Difficult, Easy)
- 5. Actualmente , Desafortunadamente , Probablemente (Currently, Unfortunately, Probably)
- 6. Verde , Tarde (Green, Afternoon)
- 7. Estadística (Statistics)
- 8. Huevos revueltos (Scrambled eggs)
- 9. Idea (Idea)
- 10. Aeropuerto (Airport)
- Hard Spanish Letters to Pronounce
- How to Handle Spanish Pronunciation Challenges
Top 10 Hardest Words to Pronounce in Spanish
Listed below are some of the hardest words to pronounce in Spanish. I’ve focused on more common words that people need to use. Master these and the rest is easy!
1. Impermeabilizante (Waterproofing)
In rainy Latin American countries, you’ll likely see this word often—it can pour a lot in the wet seasons. And to be honest, I’ve even seen a few Spanish speakers struggle with this word.
The number of syllables and the vowel diphthong in the middle make it a hard one.
TIP: Break this down into separate syllables and say it slowly until you’re comfortable. There’s no rush!
2. Ferrocarril (Railroad)
Two double “r’s” here in one word!
TIP: The “r” in Spanish is rolled both at the start of any word and when they’re doubled, while a standalone “r” is also pronounced differently from English.
For many English speakers, these sounds are very hard, but they’re possible. When making any “r” sound in Spanish, the tip of your tongue should lightly touch the top of your mouth. Alternatively, to find the right position, say “t” in English. That’s where your tongue goes.
To roll the “r” then, the issue is getting your tongue, in that position, to vibrate. Breathe out of your mouth and let your tongue vibrate up and down. You can do it!
3. Desarrolladores (Developers)
This word is great fun. You have the double-whammy of “rr,” as well as “ll,” with lots of syllables to boot.
TIP: Correct pronunciation of “ll” depends on the country. But for much of Latin America, it’s the same as an English “y,” but a bit harder.
In Spain and in Argentina, “ll” is pronounced like the “j” in jump, and in Venezuela and Colombia, it’s pronounced somewhere between an English “y” and “j.”
4. Difícil , Fácil (Difficult, Easy)
The accents aren’t where you’d expect with these words, and many English speakers pronounce them “DI-fi-cil” and “fa-CIL,” instead of their correct pronunciations: “di-FI-cil” and “FA-cil.”
TIP: Note where the accents are and stress that syllable. Say the word ten times until your tongue can’t conceive of pronouncing it any other way.
5. Actualmente , Desafortunadamente , Probablemente (Currently, Unfortunately, Probably)
The temptation here would be to say the similar-sounding English word, then add a “men-TAY” to the end.
TIP: Remember to pronounce the final “e” as “eh,” not “ay,” then break these words down into syllables and give each the same weight.
Turn your English off and say “des-a-for-tu-na-da-MEN-te” slowly at first, then accelerate to normal speaking speed.
6. Verde , Tarde (Green, Afternoon)
The “r-d” combination in Spanish is a really difficult move for the tongue—almost like quick tongue acrobatics.
TIP: Put your effort into the first syllable and that difficult “r,” then let the “d” be softer, and the “de” half of the word like an afterthought.
7. Estadística (Statistics)
People often get tongue-tied with this word, perhaps because it’s similar to English but with an extra syllable at the start. The number of “t’s” and “d’s” can also add to your troubles.
TIP: Note the stressed syllable in the middle and don’t stress yourself about the difference between “t” and “d” in this word. Pronounce that first syllable well, so that your mouth is aware you’re going into a Spanish word rather than English.
8. Huevos revueltos (Scrambled eggs)
The obstacle here would be that “v” is pronounced as a soft “b,” plus the double set of diphthongs (“ue”).
TIP: There’s no compromising. The “v” in Spanish is always pronounced as “b,” and in the middle of a word it’s a gentler version of a “b” with the lips barely touching.
To pronounce the diphthong, just say both vowel sounds, then blur them together. So “oo-eh” becomes “weh.”
9. Idea (Idea)
This is another one of those trick words that you’ll be tempted to pronounce just like you would in English. Resist this urge!
TIP: Practice pronouncing this: “ee-DEH-ah,” until it becomes natural to you!
10. Aeropuerto (Airport)
What a lot of vowels and diphthongs to boot, followed by those meddlesome “r’s!”
TIP: For the first diphthongs, just like the “ue” explained above, pronounce the two vowels until they merge together. So, “ah-eh” becomes “ay.”
Next, practice that “ue” followed by the “r.” Once you’ve mastered these two parts, you can build on the rest.
Hard Spanish Letters to Pronounce
There was an interesting Reddit discussion where someone asked what English speakers sound like to native Spanish speakers.
One thing commenters stressed was the pronunciation of “b” and “v,” which are pronounced the same in Spanish. English speakers struggle to let go of the “v” sound they’re used to and pronounce the letter “v” like a “b” in many Spanish words such as ceviche .
The Spanish “r” is definitely at the top of the list of uphill battles for English speakers—both the rolled version and the single “r”—and it can make or break being understood. Especially for telling the difference between words like caro (expensive) and carro (car)!
There are also a few sounds in Spanish that English speakers pronounce too harshly. These include the Spanish “d” and “t,” which are softer, with almost no air blown out. When pronouncing the “t” in Spanish, the tip of your tongue should just touch the back of your teeth, like in trato (deal).
Vowels in Spanish are another one on the list. They’re choppy and short and all the same length, except when one vowel follows another.
English speakers tend to vary the length of vowels, and they’ll often distort the sounds, as with the pronunciation of “e.” For example, English speakers often pronounce the name José as “hoe-ZAY” instead of “ho-SEH.”
How to Handle Spanish Pronunciation Challenges
In Spanish, almost all consonants, vowels and syllables are fully pronounced, with vigor, dedication and an open mouth. English speakers muffle a lot of the sounds in words and we join words together and close our mouths more.
So if it feels like you’re exaggerating in Spanish, that’s what you should do, and make it a habit.
Don’t Rely on English Vowel Sounds
While in English most vowels in everyday speech are pronounced as a schwa—a short “uh” sound—that isn’t the case in Spanish.
Making this switch, and pronouncing each vowel properly, makes all the difference.
Here are some more tips for nailing Spanish vowels:
- The “a” in Spanish is always pronounced like the “a” in “hat” (but shorter) or “haha” (but more open)
- The “e” is always pronounced “eh,” as in “bed” (but shorter).
- The “i” is always pronounced like the “ee” in “see.”
- The “o” is pronounced like the “o” in “more,” but shorter.
- The “u” is pronounced like the “oe” in “shoe”
In all cases, a wide open mouth is important to making these vowels sound natural.
Listen and Mimic
Really paying attention to how native speakers talk, and then trying to mimic that, will help with your overall pronunciation.
You can listen to how native speakers talk and mimic them with a program like Spanishpod101. Here, you’ll find video and audio content with transcripts, vocabulary lessons and grammar notes. The transcripts make it easy to follow along and repeat after the speakers.
You can also listen to native speakers with a program like FluentU, which uses authentic Spanish videos with interactive captions to immerse you in the language. The subtitles are vetted by language experts, ensuring their accuracy, and there are accompanying transcripts for each video. You can also get some speaking practice through personalized quizzes, which include questions to which you can speak your answer.
One scary but useful trick you can try is to record yourself (you’ll hear your flaws much more clearly that way) and then compare that to recordings made by native Spanish speakers. You’ll hear the discrepancies quite clearly and can practice listening and repeating those trouble areas.
Try Some Popular Tongue Twisters
And if you really want to exercise your mouth and tongue, you can try out these popular Spanish tongue twisters for size:
Cuando cuentes cuentos, cuenta cuantos cuentos cuentas, porque si no cuentas cuantos cuentos cuentas nunca sabrás cuantos cuentos contaste.
(When you tell stories, count how many stories you tell, because if you don’t count how many stories you tell, you’ll never know how many stories you told.)
Tres tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal, en tres tristes trastos, tragaban trigo tres tristes tigres.
(Three tigers swallowed wheat in a wheat field, in three sad containers, three sad tigers swallowed wheat.)
Pepe peina pocos pelos pero peina peluqueros, peina Pepe peluqueros con el peine de los pelos.
(Pepe combs few hairs, but he combs hairdressers, Pepe combs hairdressers with the hair comb.)
Join Some Words
In Spanish, we join words that start and end with the same letter.
For example, Qué es eso (What is that) is often pronounced “quee-so” (yes, like the word for cheese, but with a longer “e” sound) and Voy a hacer (I’m going to do…) is pronounced “boi a-ser.”
Be Comfortable with Speaking in a Very Different Way
When you switch from, say, Windows to Linux, or from eating dinner to eating dessert, you don’t expect the same feelings and experiences to translate to that new thing.
To the extent that you can, you need to completely switch off English and your preconceived notions about how things should be said, and log yourself into a different system.
For even more troubling and tricky Spanish words, see here.
Mastering pronunciation can be a tough journey, though rewarding, and the bonus is that the better your pronunciation, the more you’ll understand as well—even in the worst situations, like over a crackly phone line!