See Your Speech

Voiceless stops in English and Spanish

Even though both English and Spanish have the sounds /p/, /t/, and /k/, these sounds are pronounced very differently in the two languages. This page will help you understand the differences between them and help you make your Spanish voiceless stops sound more like native Spanish speakers say them.

These stops are VOICELESS because we don't vibrate our vocal chord while we say them unlike /b/, /d/, and /g/ in English, which are voiced stops.

What are voiceless stops?

The sounds /p/, /t/, and /k/ are called STOPS, because to make them we use our lips or tongue to STOP the air completely from coming out of our mouths, for a few milliseconds. To make the sound of the stop, we let the air go and the sound of that release of air is what makes the sounds we recognize as /p/, /t/ or /k/. Each sounds a little different because we stop the air in a different place: with our lips for /p/, with our tongue in the front of the mouth for /t/ and with our tongue touching the back of the palate for /k/.

How are English and Spanish voiceless stops different?

When you make a stop, you can control how much air you let build up and how suddenly you let go. Depending on how you do this, the stop might have a puff of air, called ASPIRATION or it might not. In English, voiceless stops are ASPIRATED in some places, like at the beginning of the word "caught".

Here are pictures of the English word "caught" and the Spanish word "campo". Notice the aspiration of the initial /k/ sound, visible in both the WAVEFORM (top half) and SPECTROGRAM (bottom half) of each picture. It's longer and louder in the English than the Spanish, because the English /k/ is aspirated.

Here's a good resource on understanding spectrograms.

Click the images to enlarge and listen to the audio.

Your voiceless stops: /p/

This is your pronunciation of the English word and the Spanish word .

Take a look at the /p/ of your two spectrograms and compare them to the native speakers above and to each other. How big is the burst of air at the beginning of this sound? Do you see more aspiration in your English than your Spanish?

Click the images to enlarge and listen to audio.

Your voiceless stops: /t/

This is your pronunciation of the English word and the Spanish word .

Take a look at the /t/ of your two spectrograms and compare them to the native speakers above. How big is the burst of air at the beginning of this sound?

Click the images to enlarge and listen to audio.

Your voiceless stops: /k/

This is your pronunciation of the English word and the Spanish word .

Take a look at the /k/ of your two spectrograms and compare them to the native speakers above. How big is the burst of air at the beginning of this sound?

Click the images to enlarge and listen to audio.