3 Ways Pronunciation Can Get Lost in Translation

A Spanish-native friend of mine recently recommended I watch a new Netflix series which has gone viral; you may have heard of “Stranger Things”. There was some initial confusion, however, because my friend didn’t say “Things”, but rather “Fings”. This phenomenon caught my attention: (it always has actually, and that’s why I’ve decided to write about it) how difficult some Spanish native speakers find it to pronounce words with the “th” [θ] pronunciation in it. I’ve also heard it happen with the number “free” and the verb “fink”.

In an increasingly multilingual world, where most of us are in constant contact with the Internet and different languages, how we pronounce foreign words is interesting. Here are some other examples I’ve encountered:

  • Some Spaniards find it difficult to pronounce “Sh”/ʃ/, so Sheldon Cooper may actually be known as “Cheldon” to some or Shakira as “Chakira”. However, in other Spanish speaking countries, where both the “Y” and “LL” are pronounced as /ʃ/, speakers may not have this problem given that the “Sh” pronunciation is often used in words such as ayuda (help) or estrella (star). Such is the case of people living on both margins of the River Plate in the Southern Cone of Latin America.


  • The use of the letter H alone is worthy of a blog post. In Spanish the H is often silent and usually at the beginning of a word, such as huevos (eggs). So, a Spanish speaker (who does not have much knowledge of the English language) may say “ello” or “ow are you?”. In order to pronounce it as best they could, they would have to use sounds that in Spanish are represented by the letters “j” or “g”. The words juego (game) or gente (people) are two examples where the first letter is pronounced like the English “H”.


  • Let’s turn the tables around and analyze Anglo speakers too. Given the information stated in point 2 (the silent H at the beginning of words) it often happens that English natives add an extra sound to words such as heladera (fridge) or almohada (pillow).

Studies have shown that one of the reason for this may be due to the fact that a person’s neuroplasticity generally decreases with time. Therefore, if we haven’t been exposed to certain languages during our first years of life, our ability to pronounce certain phonemes naturally (physiologically) becomes much more difficult later in life, leading to some interesting, and at times confusing, dinner conversations.