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Review of  English Pronunciation for Speakers of Spanish

Reviewer: Mª Ángeles Jurado Bravo
Book Title: English Pronunciation for Speakers of Spanish
Book Author: María de los Ángeles Gómez González Teresa Sánchez Roura
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Language Family(ies): Latin Subgroup
Issue Number: 27.5069

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Reviews Editor: Robert A. Cote


María de los Ángeles Gómez González and Teresa Sánchez Roura's book “English Pronunciation for Speakers of Spanish: From Theory to Practice” is an introductory textbook addressed to Spanish university students of the Received Pronunciation (RP) English phonological system. The authors opt for a contrastive analysis approach in order to present the most relevant information because (a) ''it allows the authors to take into account the interlanguage phonological system of learners'', (b) they ''can anticipate and thereby help to circumvent the difficulties that SSLE [Spanish-speaking learners of English] may encounter when producing and hearing RP sounds'' and (c) it favours ''holistic learning'' (pp. 84-86).

The first sections of the book include a list of the abbreviations and the phonetic symbols used throughout the book as well as the section ''Purpose and Scope of the Book''. In this introductory section, the authors briefly mention the aim of the book (''help SSLE sound as close as possible to native English, or, at least, acquire an intelligible RP pronunciation'' (p. xxv)). Furthermore, they present the accompanying website, which includes a series of audio tracks and illustrations in order to help the reader understand how RP English is pronounced, and the methodology followed (contrastive analysis). Finally, a short summary of each of the seven chapters in the book is provided. As mentioned by the authors, all the chapters follow a similar structure: first, a general introduction to the topic, followed by an in-depth description of the English phonological system and the comparison with the Spanish one. At the end of each chapter, the authors include suggestions for further reading and a section with exercises related to the chapter (p. xxv).

Chapter 1, “Phonetics and Phonology”, serves as an overall introduction to the key terms that are used throughout the book. After positioning phonetics and phonology within the larger field of linguistics, the authors describe both concepts, paying special attention to the different aspects of these fields. Emphasis is put on the comparison of English and Spanish syllable structures so that Spanish speakers of English are aware of the large amount of consonant clusters that exist in English and their complexity in comparison to Spanish. After this, the authors present the reader with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and the types of transcription that can be done from either a written or spoken text. The chapter finishes with a contrastive analysis of RP English and Peninsular Spanish (PSp) and some pieces of advice on how to transcribe these two languages.

Chapter 2, “The Production and Classification of Speech Sounds” focuses on the articulatory and acoustic characteristics of sounds. The first part of the chapter focuses on the speech organs, which the authors divide in three groups (respiratory, phonatory and articulatory) depending on the function they fulfill in the production of sounds. The second part of the chapter deals with the classification of sounds in terms of their articulatory features. Thus, vowels are described in terms of tongue shape, lip shape, duration, and steadiness of the articulatory gesture, while consonants are characterised in terms of voicing, place of articulation and manner of articulation. In the third and last section of this chapter, the authors describe the acoustic features of sounds, introducing the concept of vowel formants and their relation to the articulation of sounds. Furthermore, they briefly describe the acoustic characteristics of consonants and how they can be identified in a spectrogram.

Chapters 3 and 4, “Vowels and Vowel Glides” and “Consonants”, are devoted to the presentation of RP vowels, vowel glides (Chapter 3) and consonants (Chapter 4), and the comparison to the Spanish phoneme inventory. Both chapters follow a similar structure; after briefly mentioning the major differences between RP English and Spanish inventories, the authors describe each of the English sounds in more detail in terms of the following parameters: IPA symbols, identification, position in the CVS [cardinal vowel scale] (in the case of vowels), allophones (in the case of consonants), description, environment, spellings, regional and social variants, comparison with Spanish and advice, and further practice. The authors group the sounds considering different criteria. First, monophthongs are presented in ''five groups, corresponding to the five mappings of perceptual vowel space [...] that SSLE [Spanish-speaking Learners of English] tend to make'' (p. 90). Second, glides are categorised in closing diphthongs, centring diphthongs and triphthongs. Finally, consonants are grouped regarding their manner of articulation. Within these groups, consonants are further classified according to their place of articulation, so that no more than two sounds are presented at a time.

Chapter 5, “Segment Dynamics: Aspects of Connected Speech” deals with connected speech, that is, the changes that phonemes undergo when in contact with other sounds, both at the word boundary and within the word. More specifically, they focus on different types of coarticulation, assimilation, by which a phoneme is substituted by another due to the influence of surrounding sounds, elision of consonants, juncture, and gradation, including a presentation of the most common weak forms of function words in English.

Chapter 6, “Beyond the Segment: Stress, Rhythm and Intonation”, deals with suprasegmental features, namely stress (both word stress and sentence stress), rhythm and intonation. First, the authors present ''the most frequent patterns [of word stress] that may prove useful for students'' (p. 265). Second, they describe English rhythm or prosodic stress, emphasising the use of nuclear and contrastive stress. Third, the authors focus on intonation patterns and their functions, such as attitudinal, grammatical or pragmatic. Finally, the last section of this chapter is devoted to the contrastive analysis between English and Spanish, with special attention paid to the aspects which could be problematic for Spanish speakers of English, such as the correct production of stress-time rhythm.

Finally, Chapter 7, “Predicting Pronunciation from Spelling (and Vice Versa)”, focuses on text-to-speech and speech-to-text rules. The first section of this chapter is devoted to the former, in which the authors distinguish four types of orthographic syllables, namely lax (when it finishes in a consonant other than <r>), tense (when it finishes in a vowel), heavy (when it finishes in <r>) and r-tense (when it finishes in <r> but other vowel follows the consonant). Following this classification, the authors summarise how orthographic vowels in stressed syllables are usually pronounced depending on the context in which they appear. For the description of these rules as applied to consonants, they consider the parameters of voicing and silent letters. The second part of the chapter presents speech-to-text rules in tabular form, summarising the information presented in the section ''spelling'' in Chapters 3 and 4.

A section with further transcription practice, the answer key to all the exercises in the book, references and a Subject Index conclude the book.

The book is accompanied by a website with materials that can be used both in class or as individual work at home. The webpage is organised into five sections: (a) sound bank, including a description of all the sounds of RP and PSp, (b) exercises, in which students can revise the theoretical concepts and practice sounds, (c) audio illustrations, where authors include the recordings that accompany the book, (d) resources, which consist of plenty of links to external websites containing related information, and (e) glossaries, containing links to external dictionaries of phonetics and pronunciation.


This textbook is addressed specifically to Spanish university students in their first years of tertiary education. The way in which the information is structured and presented makes it an excellent introductory textbook for which no previous knowledge on English phonetics and phonology is required. However, the lack of detail in describing a few aspects encourages its use in the classroom, where a teacher can further explain them. Otherwise, the reader may need to resort to further readings in order to get a full description of certain features. Nonetheless, in case the reader is already familiar with the most common terminology and wishes to resume the study of English phonology, they will find it easy to follow. Furthermore, even though the authors claim that the book is addressed to those who ''wish to improve their English pronunciation'' (p. xxiv), without the guidance of a teacher, the reader may find it very hard to actually improve their pronunciation by just reading about how to articulate the sounds.

The book presents an appropriate structure for a textbook. The fact that the first chapters are devoted to presenting the fields of phonetics and phonology (Chapter 1) and the classification of speech sounds regarding their articulatory characteristics (Chapter 2) makes it an exceptional introduction to the book since it goes from the general to the specific. The rest of the chapters are also presented in such a way that a smooth transition from segmentals to connected speech and suprasegmentals is achieved. Nevertheless, the last chapter, ''Predicting pronunciation from spelling (and vice versa)'', appears to break with the overall organisation of the book because it returns to the discussion of segmentals in relation to their spelling (information also introduced in Chapters 3 and 4). It seems to be an appendix to which the reader can turn to in order to find the required information in a straightforward manner, a task which the authors facilitate by presenting all the data in tabular form.

The structure of the chapters in isolation is similar to that of the book as a whole, that is, from general to specific. This allows the reader to get familiar with a topic before concentrating on applying the theory to a specific linguistic background (English) and contrasting it with their own language (Spanish). Moreover, the authors continuously make reference to other sections within the book so that the reader obtains a detailed and holistic explanation of a topic.

The style chosen by the authors in order to present the information is adequate for the expected reader. First, the authors recapitulate certain sections at the end of them, which helps the reader remember all the information in a nutshell. Second, the text includes plenty of footnotes, in which the authors define words or provide further information not directly related to the main text but nevertheless interesting or significant. For example, when describing RP, the authors include a footnote to clarify that RP is not a single accent but an ''umbrella term that is used to refer to a number of varieties'' (p.35). Third, keywords are highlighted in bold. This technique serves two purposes: on the one hand, it allows the reader/student to be aware of the central concepts they should learn in order to understand the field; on the other hand, it facilitates the task of finding the most relevant information at first glance when reading the book again or when looking for a specific extract. For instance, on page 36, the authors highlight the words ''RP'', ''forty-nine sounds'', ''PSp [peninsular Spanish]'' and ''forty-two sounds'' so that without reading the entire paragraph, the reader knows that the authors are comparing the sound inventories of both languages and how many sounds each language has. However, sometimes the text is full with words and phrases in bold, which complicates the reading. For example, the first paragraph on page 54 consists of 21 lines and 35 words are highlighted since a lot of new terms related to the articulation of sounds are introduced for the first time.

The book's content focuses on articulatory phonetics, offering a complete description of this subfield. The large number of figures and diagrams of the organs of speech and its functioning provides an extraordinary depiction of articulatory phonetics. However, an introduction to the acoustic features of sounds is also provided in Chapter 2, exemplified with several spectrograms which help the reader be initiated in this area and recognise some sounds in the spectrogram.
The text is not excessively technical and the frequent examples throughout the book facilitates the understanding of how English words are pronounced, including some common exceptions to the rules. Also, the section ''Further reading'' at the end of each chapter provides a complete revision of the most relevant works dealing with the topics described, although many of them are also introductory texts or textbooks. Additionally, the section ''Exercises'' includes activities which the teacher can introduce in their lessons so as to revise the contents of the course and provide further practice, in terms of both producing sounds and transcribing texts phonetically or orthographically.

Overall, the book lacks a descriptive approach. The authors base their work on the nativeness principle (Levis, 2005), focusing on the students trying to ''avoid, whenever possible, the presence of a foreign accent'' (p. 14), even though they claim that thanks to the book under review, students will be intelligible. The authors focus their attention on RP, without barely mentioning other native accents of English. It is true that when dealing with vowels and consonants, there is a section devoted to the variations that these phonemes present in other dialects, but they are generally variations of RP or other British accents, with few references to American, Australian or other native accents. Furthermore, in these sections, the authors introduce plenty of phoneme variations which correspond to sounds present in neither RP nor Spanish, thus readers cannot know how different those sounds are from the chosen standard. It would have been interesting to have been able to listen to these variations so that the reader can notice the difference between RP and the local varieties of the language. Furthermore, given the large amount of research devoted to the use of English in international contexts, I think it would have been interesting to dedicate a section to this issue, introducing the concepts of World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) so that students are aware of the great diversity of Englishes that exists nowadays.

Finally, the accompanying website includes an enormous amount of additional material. The sound bank provides the reader with a complete description of the phonological systems of both languages since it contains animations of the articulations of RP and PSp phonemes and short videos of real people producing the sounds in isolation and within words. Also, the large number of exercises directly related to what is explained in the book presents the reader with plenty of opportunities to discriminate sounds, practice their articulation and transcribe short texts phonetically and/or orthographically. Furthermore, these activities are organised regarding the chapters of the book so that it is easier to find appropriate exercises at any moment. Finally, the links to additional external material are an excellent means of providing the readers with a small database to which they can turn in case they want to expand their knowledge on a certain aspect of English and/or Spanish pronunciation.

To sum up, the book under review is an excellent introductory textbook which will help Spanish university students get to know the RP phonological system and compare it with their own. The focus on articulatory phonetics and the use of a contrastive approach represent an ideal methodology to improve the RP pronunciation of non-native speakers of English, since it facilitates the understanding of the production of sounds by analysing how speech organs are positioned and by comparing them with sounds that speakers are able to pronounce. The combination of theory and practice provides a perfect approach to the book's purpose.


Levis, J. M. (2005). Changing Contexts and Shifting Paradigms in Pronunciation Teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 39(3), 369–377.

Financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Education (FPU grant ''FPU13/02700'') is gratefully acknowledged
Mª Ángeles Jurado-Bravo is a PhD candidate at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain). Her research focuses on teaching English pronunciation under an ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) perspective. She is interested in English phonetics and phonology, ELF and dialectology.