Learning Spanish can be tough, and one of the hardest things is mastering its beautiful but unfamiliar sounds. This is not only because there are many Spanish phonemes that do not exist in English (we are looking at you, Spanish R!), but also because there are a few familiar letters that are pronounced differently than in English. Fortunately, there is a way of making Spanish phonetics fun and entertaining: learning Spanish with pronunciation games!
That’s why we’ve put together this list of fun pronunciation activities that you should try if you want to sound like a native Spanish speaker.
1. The Telephone Game
This is a classic game that can be played in any language. To play, you need a group of at least three people. One person starts by whispering a sentence in Spanish to the person next to them, and that person then whispers what they heard to the next person until the sentence reaches the last person in the line. The last player then says the sentence out loud, and you can all compare it to the original phrase to see how much it has changed!
As you can imagine, the changes and deformations that occur to the original sentence will provide lots of laughs, but they are also an excellent way of becoming aware of your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to Spanish pronunciation!
For example, after a few games, you may realize that the problems always start whenever you or one of your friends have to say a word containing the letter J. In English, this letter is always pronounced as the ⟨dg⟩ sound in ‘judge’.
In Spanish, however, J is a stronger, breathier version of H. As a result, English speakers may have trouble saying words like ajo (garlic): /aho/, and say /adg-o/ instead, which sounds just like the word hallo (“I find”).
Do you see how learning Spanish with pronunciation games can do a lot for your speaking skills?
2. Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters are great for practicing difficult sounds, and they can also be a lot of fun! A tongue twister is a sequence of words that are difficult to say quickly, usually because they contain similar sounds.
In Spanish, there are tongue twisters for almost every sound in the language! This one, for example, is great for practicing the trill of the Spanish R which –as we anticipated in the introduction– is one of the most troublesome sounds in the Spanish language:
Un ratón borracho robó un ramo de rojas rosas,
A drunken mouse stole a bouquet of red roses,
el rabo se le enredó y rodó de rosa en rosa.
his tail got tangled up and rolled from rose to rose.
If you like listening to Spanish music or watching Spanish TV shows, you may have noticed that the Spanish R is much stronger than in English. Indeed, when this letter occurs in initial position (ratón), after letter N (enredó), or next to another R (borracho), it is produced by trilling the tip of the tongue against the hard palate, which produces a drilling, vibrating sound.
If you are having trouble with this sound, practice this tongue twister over and over again until you sound like a purring cat or a child making the sound of a car motor!
3. Word Association Games
Word association games are also a great way to learn and practice difficult words and sounds in Spanish. To play, you need at least two people. One person starts by saying a word in Spanish, and the next person then has to say another word that is associated with the first one. For example, if someone says casa (house), the second person could say puerta (door), and the third person could say llave (key), and so on. Easy, right?
These games are great for practicing difficult words because they force you to think of the word in Spanish, rather than its English equivalent. They are also excellent for learning new vocabulary, as they help you become more familiar with common words and their different meanings. But with a little imagination, you can also turn it into a pronunciation game!
For example, if one of the players comes up with an appropriate word but makes a pronunciation mistake, the other players have the right to point that out and subtract half a point from their friend’s score.
Or –if you really want to take things to the next level– you can change the rules of the game completely and make it about phonetically related words. For example, if someone says the word “amor” (love), which ends in an R, the next person has to say a word beginning with that sound! (For some reason, rosa and ratón come to mind!)
4. Learn Spanish sounds with music.
Songs may not qualify as language games, but they surely help you make the learning process more fun and playful. Especially if the songs have been composed with linguistic amusement in mind!
Such is the case of Ojo con los Orozco (Beware the Orozocos). This very special song, released in 1997 by Argentine musician León Gieco, is entirely made up of words that only contain the vowel O:
Nosotros no somos como los Orozco
We are nothing like the Orozcos
Yo los conozco, son ocho los monos:
I know them, there’s 8 of them:
Pocho, Toto, Cholo, Tom
Moncho, Rodolfo, Otto, Pololo
Yo pongo los votos sólo por Rodolfo
Truth be told, I only trust Rodolfo
Los otros son locos, yo los conozco, no los soporto
The other ones are terrible, I know them very well and I can’t stand them
This is an excellent song for those who want to improve their Spanish with pronunciation games, because it allows you to have fun while focusing on one of the most problematic Spanish vowels for English speakers: the letter O.
As it happens, the Spanish O has very little to do with its English counterpart. In Spanish, this sound is more open (tongue lower in mouth!) than the vowel sound in English, and there is no rounding of the lips at any moment during its production. Besides, the English tendency to glide towards an U sound (as in words like “phone”, “toe”, or “no”) does NOT apply in Spanish.
Oh, and then of course, there’s Esdrújulos epítetos (Proparoxytone Epithets), one of my all-time favorite songs. This delightfully absurd tune by the Spanish indie-rock band Doble Pletina is a song almost entirely made up of palabras esdrújulas, i.e., words stressed on the third-to-last syllable:
Un lánguido aristócrata con ínfulas estéticas
A languid aristocrat with aesthetic interests
Arrastra tiránico sin el menor escrúpulo
Drags, with a tyrannical gesture,
Sus dálmatas escuálidos por la playa volcánica
His emaciated Dalmatians along the volcanic beach
Recibe impertérrito las ráfagas atlánticas
While he receives, undaunted, the gusts of the Atlantic ocean
Do you notice how every proparoxytone word has a stress mark? This is one of the few rules with no exceptions in the Spanish language!: If a Spanish word is stressed on the third-to-last syllable, it carries a stress mark above the accented vowel.
Songs like Esdrújulos epítetos can help you not only to master the pronunciation of long, complex words, but also to become familiar with little-known accentuation rules!
As you can see, learning about phonetic and grammar rules in Spanish with pronunciation games is not only a way to have a bit of fun: it’s one of the best and most complete ways to become aware of essential aspects of this beautiful language.
If you’re someone who gets easily bored with old textbooks and would rather learn Spanish with pronunciation games and speaking activities, you’ve come to the right place. At Listen & Learn, we work with qualified teachers of Spanish who specialize in adapting the content, pace, and style of their lessons to suit every student’s preferences and needs.
If you want to go beyond games and start working on your fluency through genuine interactions with a native instructor, book a free online trial lesson today and find out how we can help you reach your goals!