Problematic Phonemes for Spanish-speakers’ Learners of English

Keywords: English pronunciation, Spanish native speakers, Contrastive Analysis, Error Correction, Interference, pronunciation activities


When learning English, learners might face a challenging task in mastering pronunciation due to differences in both languages such as sound-to-letter correspondence, size of phoneme inventory, allophonic realization of sounds, place and manner of articulation, among others. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to review both theoretical and research reports on the most problematic sounds for Spanish-speakers English language learners. Approaches to second language learners’ errors like Contrastive Analysis and Error Analysis although being criticized have contributed to identifying likely causes of errors and dealing with them whether anticipating them or providing appropriate feedback on them. Besides, first language interference and age of second language acquisition have been found as complicating factors in the English pronunciation learning process. Finally, some classroom activities have been reported as successful for facilitating English pronunciation in Spanish native speakers.

Author Biographies

Olga Lucía Uribe-Enciso, Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia

is a professor and a researcher in the ELT Educational program at Universidad Industrial de Santander where she teaches SLA research and English Didactics courses and coordinates a master program. She has carried out research on language learning strategies, reading strategies, L1 reading and writing proficiency in university students, L2 collocations, and formative research in ELT preservice teachers. Also, she has worked as a teacher trainer, academic consultant and curriculum and material designer for ELT programs run by the MEN and the British Council in order to qualify teachers and improve ELT practices in both private and public schools. She holds a DELTA certification, a specialization in Spanish semiotics and pedagogy, an MA in TEFL and an MA in Teaching Spanish.

Sol Smith Fuentes Hernandez, Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia

is a tenth- semester student in the English Language Teaching Program (ELTP) at Universidad Industrial de Santander. Throughout her career, she has been interested not only in the study of phonetics and phonology but also in the creation of materials for Colombian primary teachers in Public Institutions. She has developed some group studies about the frequency of pronunciation of the English phonetic vowel /ə/. In addition to this, she has been one of the creators of a booklet called Primary Genius 5 which is aligned with the suggested curriculum proposed by Ministerio de Educación Nacional (MEN).

Karla Lizeth Vargas Pita , Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia

is a student at Universidad Industrial de Santander where she studies the English Language Teaching program. She has carried out research on problematic phonemes for Spanish-speakers learners of English. Also, she has co-created the English booklet “Primary Genius” for teaching English to elementary fifth graders in Colombia. What is more, she is currently working as English teacher in the young learners’ program at Instituto de lenguas UIS.

Anderson Steve Rey Pabón , Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia

is an eight- semester student of the English Language Teaching program at Universidad Industrial de Santander. During his time as a student he has been interested in the teaching and/or learning of Spanish as a Foreign Language. For that reason, he participated in the International Program called Amity in the United states in the state of UTAH. His role over there was to teach Spanish culture to an English- speaking scholar community.


MEP Research Center. (2002). Fact sheet - What is pronunciation? Retrieved from:

Axelrod, J. (1974). Some Pronunciation and Linguistic Problems of Spanish-Speaking Children in American Classrooms. Elementary English, 51 (2), 203-206. Retrieved from

Barlow, J. (2014). Age of acquisition and allophony in Spanish-English bilinguals. Frontiers in psychology, vol. 5, article 288. Pp. 1-14.

Benson, C. (2002). Key concepts in ELT: Transfer / Cross-linguistic influence. ELT Journal, Vol. 56/1.

Bergmann, J. & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom. USA: International Society for Technology in Education

Bhela, B. (1999). Native language interference in learning a second language: Exploratory case studies of native language interference with target language usage International Education Journal (1)1. Retrieved from:

Boyers, S. (2002). Introduction to English pronunciation- Teacher's notes. Eds.Susan Boyer & Leonard Boyer. Understanding English Pronunciation: An Integrated Practice Course.p.1.

Bradlow, A. (1993). A cross-language comparison of vowel production and perception: language-specific and universal aspects. Working papers of the Cornell Phonetics Laboratory, 8, 29-40. Retrieved from:

Byrne, R. (2011). English is a Germanic language. What does it mean and how true is it? Innervate (3). University of Nottingham. Retrieved from:

Cabrera, D. & Lara, M. (2014). Representación ortográfica de los sonidos consonánticos alveopalatales en inglés y su producción oral en la lectura en voz alta por estudiantes de la asignatura Desarrollo Fonológico II de la mención inglés del Departamento de Idiomas Modernos de la Facultad de Ciencias de la Educación de la Universidad de Carabobo (Tesis de grado, Universidad de Carabobo, Venezuela). Retrieved from:

Cala, R. (1997). Dos sistemas cara a cara. Universidad de Barcelona. Centro virtual de Cervantes. Acta VIII., 221-225. Retrieved from:

Case, A. (2012). Pronunciation problems for Spanish-speaking learners of English [Blog post]. Retrieved from: [Accessed April 8th, 2017].

Castello, D. (2015).First Language Acquisition and Classroom Language Learning: Similarities and Differences (Master of Arts thesis) [online]. Retrieved from:

Castillo, J. (2016). Mejoramiento de la pronunciación de la lengua inglesa de los estudiantes de primer semestre del programa de lenguas extranjeras de la Universidad Santiago de Cali a través de la enseñanza de la fonética (Tesis de maestría, Universidad del Valle, Colombia). Retrieved from:

Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. M., & Goodwin, J. M. (1996). Teaching pronunciation: A reference for teachers of English speakers of other languages. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Centeno, J. & Anderson, T. (2007). Contrastive analysis between Spanish and English. In J. Centeno, T. Anderson & L. Obler (eds), Communication disorders in Spanish speakers: Theoretical research and clinical aspects. Clevedon, Buffalo; Multilingual matters LTD. Pp.11-33.

Coe, N. (2001). Speakers of Spanish and Catalan. In M. Swan & B. Smith (Authors), Learner English: A Teacher's Guide to Interference and Other Problems. Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers (pp. 90-112). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Corder, P. (1967). The significance of learner's errors. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 5, 161-170

Corder, S.P. (1981). Error analysis and Interlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Denizer, E (2017). Does Mother Tongue Interfere in Second Language Learning? Journal of Foreign Language Education and Technology, 2(1) pp.39-54. Retrieved from:

Dekeyser, R. (2012). Age effects in second language learning. In S. Gass & A. Mackey (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition (pp. 645-670). London & New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Dulay, H. & Burt, M. (1974). Errors and strategies in child second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly, 8(2), 129-136.

Ellis, R (1997). Second language acquisition: Oxford introductions to language study. Series Ed H.G. Widdowson. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Essays, UK. (November 2013). The Importance of Pronunciation for English Students English Language Essay. Retrieved from:

Fangzhi, Ch. (1998). The Teaching of Pronunciation to Chinese Students of English. China. E-Usia Forum, Vol 36, 1. Retrieved from:

Flipped Learning Network (FLN) (2014) The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P™ Retrieved from:

Frankfurt International School (FIS) (n.d.). A guide to learning English: The differences between English and Spanish. [online] Retrieved from: [Accessed 23 Apr. 2017].

Gallardo del Puerto, F. & Gómez, E. (2008). La enseñanza de las vocales inglesas a los hablantes de español. Sección 2. Análisis contrastivo de las vocales del inglés y del castellano. Revista Pulso CUCC, N° 40 [online]. Retrieved from: [Accessed April 29th, 2017].

Gilakjani, A. (2011). A study on the situation of pronunciation in ESL/EFL classrooms. Journal of studies in education, vol 1, N° 1: E4, 1-15.

Gonzales, C. (2012). Native speakers of Spanish learning English: The phonetic problems that may arise and some possible solutions.p.1-14 [online]. Retrieved from: [Accessed April 10th, 2017].

Goswami, J. & Chen, H. (2010). The Impact of Instruction in Phonetic and Phonemic Distinctions in Sounds on the Pronunciation of Spanish-speaking ESL Learners. Mextesol Journal, [online] Vol. 34 Ed. 1, p.29-39. Retrieved from:

Griffiths, B. (2004). Integrating pronunciation into classroom activities. British Council & BBC. Retrieved from:

Hancock, M. (2000). Pronunciation games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Harley, B. & Wang, W. (2014) The Critical Period Hypothesis: Where Are We Now?. In De Groot, A. & Kroll, J. (eds.), Tutorials Bilingualism Psycholinguistic Perspectives. (p. 19-38). New York, London: Psychology Press.

Hernández, G. González, J. & Algara, A. (2011). Realización de las consonantes fricativas alveolares en la coda silábica en el inglés (nivel básico) de Hispanohablantes Venezolanos. CONHISREMI Revista Universitaria Arbitrada de Investigación y Diálogo académico, vol 7(1). Retrieved from:

Hewings, M. (2004). Pronunciation practice activities. Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hinkel, E. (2018). Error analysis. In J. I. Liontas, T. International Association and M. DelliCarpini (eds.), The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (1st ed., pp. 1-5). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published.

Huang, L. (2010). Reading Aloud in the Foreign Language Teaching. Asian Social Science. Vol 6(4). Retrieved from:

Kalhousová, E. (2014). Análisis de las interferencias fonético-fonológicas del español en el inglés de los hispanohablantes nativos. (Tesis de licenciatura, Universidad Javeriana, Colombia). Retrieved from:

Khansir, A. (2012). Error Analysis and Second Language Acquisition. Theory and Practice in Language Studies. Vol 2(5). 1028-1032. Retrieved from:

Kelly, G. (2000). How to teach pronunciation. Harlow, UK: Longman

Kenworthy, J. (1987). Teaching English Pronunciation. Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers. England & New York: Longman.

Kirkman, R. (n.d.). The Critical Period Hypothesis. Academia. Retrieved from:

Kuhl, P. (2010) Brain Mechanisms in Early Language Acquisition. Neuron, 67(5), 713-727. Doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.08.038.

Lado, R. (1957). Linguistics Across Cultures. CSU, Chico: University of Michigan Press.

Lennon, P. (2008). Contrastive analysis, error analysis, interlanguage. In S. Gramley and V. Gramley (eds.), Bielefeld Introduction to Applied Linguistics. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, pp. 51-60.

Major, Ch. (2014). The effect of age on second language acquisition in older adults (Master thesis, Brigham Young University). Retrieved from:

Mayordomo, R. (2013). Interferencias orales. Interferencias lingüísticas entre el español y el inglés desde una perspectiva práctica. Retrieved from:

Oxford Royale Academy. (2014). 4 Difficulties English Poses for EFL Learners, and How to Overcome Them. Par.2-13- Retrieved from:

Pérez, J. (2011). Estado actual del tema. El fonema /r/. Adquisición del fonema r por aprendices estadounidenses desde la fonética auditiva y articulatoria. Universidad de Granada. Marco ELE, núm. 12. Retrieved from:

Pinter, A. (2012). Children learning second languages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pizarro, G. & Cordero, D. (2015). Problemas fonológicos en aprendientes costarricenses de Inglés. Revista Letras, Vol. 2 Número 58. Retrieved from:

Ramírez, M. (2018) Flipping a pronunciation lesson for a teacher training course. In J. Mehring and A. Leis (eds), Innovations in flipping the language classroom: Theories and Practices (pp. 45-57). Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

Richards, J. & Schmidt, R. (2002). Dictionary of applied linguistics. London: Longman.

Rengifo, A. (2009). Improving pronunciation through the use of karaoke in an adult English class. Profile 11, 91-105

Roach, P (2013). English phonetics and phonology a practical course. Nasals and other consonants. Chart of English phonemes (Image).p.52.

Sompong, M. (2014). Error Analysis. Thammasat Review (16) 2. Retrieved from:

Steward, A. (1971). Contrastive Analysis of Spanish and English Sounds Which Create Pronunciation Difficulties. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED058802)

Torres, J. (2007). Necesidades específicas del hispanohablante en el aprendizaje de la pronunciación del inglés. Sección 1. Las actividades en los manuales de pronunciación de inglés como lengua extranjera. Biblioteca Phonica, 6. 49-63. Retrieved from:

Tost, G. (2013). Bettering pronunciation through reading aloud and peer appraisal. Bellaterra Journal of Teaching & Learning Language and Literaturem vol 6(1). 35-55. Retrieved from:

Touchie, H. (1986). Second language learning errors their types, causes, and treatment. JALT Journal 8 (1). 77-79.

Valenzuela, J. (n.d). Nivel fonológico. Lingüística contrastiva inglés-español: una visión general. Universidad de Murcia. 2-6. Retrieved from:

Valero, C. (2010). Algunos aspectos relativos al nivel fonológico. Dos lenguas y dos formas de ver el mundo. España: Gobierno de España. Ministerio de cultura (1). Retrieved from:

Vera, K. (2014). Fenómenos de reducción vocálica por hablantes Colombianos de inglés como L2: un estudio acústico. Retrieved from:

Wells, J. (2000). Overcoming phonetic interference. English phonetics, Journal of the English phonetic society of Japan. Retrieved from:

How to Cite
Uribe-Enciso, O. L., Fuentes Hernandez, S. S., Vargas Pita , K. L., & Rey Pabón , A. S. (2019). Problematic Phonemes for Spanish-speakers’ Learners of English. GIST – Education and Learning Research Journal, (19), 215-238.