Spanish Phonology – is neither hard nor dry

To achieve success in the learning process of a second language, students need to acquire a high level of understanding of the phonological features of the language they’re studying. This can be done in the medium to long term by direct and continuos exposure to the sounds patterns of that language; conversely they can endeavour to systematically study those patterns and their properties.

Phonetics and phonology are two aspects of the nature of language in relation to second language teaching and learning that I find extremely fascinating. There are so many aspects to consider when we focus on the true nature of the spoken language; I mean the type of speech used on daily basis by a given human group or what is also called a dialect of a language.

The study of the phonological patterns of the Spanish language can be seen from many angles. From the amount of sounds that exist in its language varieties or dialects, Spanish doesn’t have the sound complexities of English for example. Most of the sounds found in all Spanish dialectical forms, are quite easy to master for most second language learners.

Standard Spanish has very few sounds that may represent a major learning problem for most people studying it as a second language. These learners soon find out, for example, that in this language variety a prominent distinctive sound pattern is the one represented by letter z in combination with any vowel and c with e and i. This is perceived that way mainly because those phonological features of Spanish are not pronounced in the same manner in the Peninsular (European) and American Spanish dialectical forms.

As a matter of fact there are several distinctive sound patterns among the Spanish dialectical forms; however, the case mentioned above is one of the first sounds that students become more aware of or may be presented with in the language classroom. As soon as they start to find out more about the nature of the other sounds that are found in the American Spanish dialectical varieties, like the aspiration of s in final positions or the several pronunciations for ll, they realize that the phonology of this language rather than complex is rich and varied.

In my long experience as Spanish teacher to adults, I have always taught Spanish phonology based on a structured yet simple way which uses the International Phonetic Alphabet as the main methodological tool. However, I’ve always presented the subject based on a general or standard model, except in relation to the sound of z and c in the manner referred to above. It has only been through my own study and classroom practice that I have managed to get into the finer aspects of the phonology of my mother tongue.

A few moths ago I was trying to find some information about a particular sound and I came across a link containing an almost complete description of all the sounds patterns of the main dialectical varieties of Spanish. The link is by the University of Iowa.

It was only in one of those moments of hunger for learning that I decided to study what there was in the link. And to my amazement I came to understand quite a few other aspects of the Spanish phonology that weren’t still quite clear to me. The link presents the Spanish phonological patterns in a detailed and illustrated manner that provides audio-visual aids to understand the finer linguistic terms associated with the scientific study of language.

I found the information provided by the University of Iowa on the classification of the properties of the sounds of the Spanish language to be one of the most thorough analyses of the phonological patterns of this language that I’ve ever encountered. It provided me with a much defined panorama of this subject especially in relation to getting acquainted with the linguistic jargon associated with the complex nature of the phonetics and phonology fields.

I have added here a link to the excellent chart of the phonological properties of Spanish language provided by the University of Iowa. It’s not only easy to understand; it’s also an intellectually refreshing challenge for the student of Spanish as a second language, since it’s presented in Spanish!

The study of Spanish phonology can be a very fascinating endeavour for any person interested in getting a fuller understanding of this subject. This type of study, however, must go beyond a quick glance at the convoluted and often superficial explanations of the sounds of Spanish as given by most dictionaries or to just trying to make some sense of the complex range of  the phonetic symbols listed in the general IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) chart.

About L. A. Pinel

I'm the founder and Director of Tres Culturas Spanish Language Studio, a specialist Spanish language school in Melbourne, Australia. As a teacher of Spanish I view the study of issues about the nature of the Spanish language in particular and of applied linguistics in general with great passion. I’m also an avid language learner, my other languages are Italian, Portuguese and French; at the moment I'm studying Latin and Mandarin Chinese.

Posted on August 12, 2008, in Foreign Language Learning, Language, Language learning, Phonetics & Phonology, Second Language Learning, Spanish, Spanish Language Learning. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. What is the link to U of Iowa on Spanish phonology?

  1. Pingback: The charming softness of the Spanish sound patterns « Issues about the Spanish Language

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