Mastering vowel sounds in Spanish is essential if one expects to be understood by native speakers. So much information is conveyed by vowels: gender, person/number endings as well as some of the tenses. I place a high value on teaching about vowel pronunciation before I concern myself with some of the more challenging consonant sounds, such as the trilled r sound.
Hopefully, you have read and used the Lesson about Practicing Spanish Vowels in which each vowel is pronounced on a continuum from i-u. This lesson takes up where that one ends. It offers five sentences, each of which has a high concentration of one vowel. By contextualizing the vowels, that is, putting them in natural sentences, you have a means of applying the more theoretically based mantra-style practice of the earlier lesson.
These five sentences also give ample opportunity to teach about synalepha – the fusion of final vowel with following vowel, so students will be encouraged to avoid glottal stops. Only one sentence should be used each day, until the sixth class meeting, when all five can be reviewed, in order, or scrambled for fun and perhaps even competitive games, depending on the age level of the students.
The five sentences are:
- La historia es interesante y difícil.
- El elefante es enorme.
- Ana ama a Armando.
- Onofrío no es honesto ni honrado.
- Umberto y Úrsula estudian en la universidad.
Let’s use the first sentence as an example of how to use these in class. Do not write the sentence on the board at this point. First, focus the class by announcing the pronunciation exercise (e.g., Atención, clase: ejercicio de pronunciación, escuchen con cuidado…). Now say the sentence, just a bit more slowly than natural speed.
Pause and repeat it. Next, tell them to repeat it together (ahora, repitan Uds.). Then have each student repeat the sentence at least once. Model correct pronunciation when you hear, for instance, the h of historia or a glottal stop between La and historia or a glottal stop before the i of interesante (the s of es should elide with it), or after the final –e of interesante. The word difícil is almost always stressed incorrectly by English speakers, even if they have never taken French!
The final i in difícil is almost always mispronounced as the i in the English words ink or milk. Don’t make anyone repeat the sentence more than three times. If they still don’t get it, make mental notes of the types of errors committed. By the time you’ve gone through the whole class, you’ll probably have a comment on each syllable!
After the whole class has had a chance to practice the sentence, you have two options: either use it as a dictation – to see how well they have listened and to check any spelling lessons they may have had previously, or you can write the sentence on the board and begin commenting on syllabification, the silent h, glottal stops (a no-no in Spanish), etc.
On each of the following four classes, start the class with the mantra exercise (i-e-a-o-u), then follow with the next sentence. After the second day, ask if anyone notices which vowel is being emphasized and ask them to guess what vowel the next class will be devoted to.
This simple question encourages meta-cognitive processes, a fancy way of saying taking responsibility for your learning by being actively engaged in it!