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Published on: Vocabulary

The 25+ Hardest Words to Spell in Spanish

When you start learning a language, pronouncing any word can be a real challenge, particularly if you are an English speaker and you are studying Spanish, due to the great pronunciation difference, many sounds are quite tricky. Some words will always be an extra challenge. There are many hard Spanish words that you have to figure out and fix the aspects of pronunciation in Spanish that many English-speaking people have the most trouble with.

Spanish has its share of words that are extremely difficult for native English speakers to pronounce, as certain words contain sounds that your mouth has never had to produce to say any word in Spanish. Also, some are long with many repeated syllables, and others whose spelling would be pronounced very differently in English.

First, let’s look at some important pronunciation and lettering issues to learn before learning some hard Spanish words.

Difficult Spanish Pronunciation For Spanish Learners

The “J” sound

For many foreigners, words with the letter “j” are very hard Spanish words because are the most difficult to pronounce in Spanish because they think that since it is pronounced differently, they think it is a sound they don’t know, but in reality, if you are an English speaker, you can try saying the “j” in Spanish as a very strong “h” in English, as in the word “Hell”. Here is a short list of words that have the letter “J” in Spanish for you to practice the sound.

Spanish  English
Jabón Soap
Jamón Ham
Jugar Play
Jueves Thursday
Joven Young
Jirafa Giraffe
Jefe Chief
Abeja Bee
Ajo Garlic
Bajar Download
Hijo Son
Mujer Woman
Queja Complaint
Ojo Eye
Rojo Red
Enojo Anger
Dibujar Draw
Cajero Cashier
Fijar Fix
Jueves Thursday
Abajo Down
Acertijo Riddle
Jarabe Syrup
Joya Jewel
Jugo Juice
Julio July

The “Ñ” sound

A very peculiar letter in the Spanish language that is often a problem for English speakers. The “Ñ” comes originally from the letter “N”. The “Ñ” didn’t exist in the Latin alphabet and was the product of innovations some nine centuries ago.

English speakers tend to think that the “Ñ” is often pronounced the same as the “ny” in “canyon”, which is from the Spanish “cañón”. No one will misunderstand you if you pronounce the “Ñ” like this, but in reality, that is only an approximation. 

When the “Ñ” is accurately pronounced, it makes tighter contact to that ridge just behind the top of the front teeth than when “ny” is pronounced. Part of the tongue even touches the front of the roof of the palate shortly. “Ñ” takes a little bit longer to say than “ny” and is more like one sound than two blending sounds. 

Here is a short list of words containing the letter “Ñ” for you to add to your vocabulary

Spanish  English
Puño Fist
Paño Cloth
Pequeño Small
Español Spanish
Araña Spider
Sueño Dream
Seña Sign
Otoño Autumn
Uña Nail
Señor Mr.
Señalar Point
Muñeca Doll
Niñero Nanny
Pañal Diaper
Tamaño Size
Extraño Stranger
Enseñar Teaching
Teñir Dyeing
Hogareño Household
Piña Pineapple

Top 11 Hard Spanish Words

Spanish has many difficult words that are even difficult for native Spanish speakers. These complicated words are good for practice pronouncing and loosening up your tongue, and will surely help you pronounce Spanish words better.

1. Ornitorrinco 

“Ornitorrinco means” “platypus”, the difficulty of this word lies in its hard “R” and the several “O’s” it includes. 

2. Impermeabilizante 

It means “waterproofing” and is a word you will use often in the rainy countries of Latin America. It can pour a lot in the rainy seasons. Even for Spanish speakers, it’s a bit of a tricky word.

3. Ferrocarril

“Ferrocarril” means “railroad” and its difficulty lies in the fact that it has two double “R’s” in one word.

For many English speakers, these sounds are very difficult, but they are possible. It’s all about practice and getting your language used to these new Spanish movements.

4. Desarrolladores

“Desarrolladores” means “developers” and has a double “R” and a double “L”. 

The double “L” in this word is pronounced differently depending on the country or region. While some people will give the double “L” a “y” /developers/ sound, others pronounce it “sh” /desarroshadores/. This might be the reason why it is difficult for English speakers to pronounce this word, as no standard guide exists to indicate which one is the correct one.

What is nice about this word is that the syllables are easy to separate and you may go syllable by syllable until you have mastered the proper pronunciation. 

5. Desafortunadamente

It means “unfortunately” and is a long word. Always remember to pronounce the final “e” as “eh”, never as “ei”, then separate these words up into syllables and give each one the same importance.

Power down the English and pronounce “des-a-for-tu-na-da-men-te” very slowly initially, then accelerate to your normal speaking speed.

6. Espantapájaros

“Espantapájaros” means “Scarecrow”, a dressed mannequin or humanoid-shaped decoy that is used to scare birds away from crops in large fields. The difficulty is given by the repetition of consonants and the unusually high number of vowels with different accentuations. 

In this case, learn the 5 Spanish vowel sounds to pronounce the Spanish words.  After you get each syllable right, just try to say the whole word more quickly. 

7. Aeropuerto

Means “airport” and is complicated by the vowels and the soft “R”. It has a lot of vowels and is a good word to practice pronunciation for new language learners. 

8. Agujero

This word means “hole” and is one of the most mispronounced Spanish words due to the mixture of the g and j sounds. In Spanish, j is said quite differently. Let’s break down its pronunciation:

  • G. The “G” in this word is followed by a U, so it is pronounced like the English “G” in “gastronomy”.
  • J. The “J” in Spanish sounds like a hard English “H”, as in “hell”.
  • R. The “R” is between two vowels, so it is a soft “R”.

9. Probablemente (probably)

“Probably” is its English translation and tends to confuse English speakers because of its similarity to English. It also doesn’t really help that this is a long word. Keep in mind that Spanish vowels sound much more pronounced than English vowels. Give every letter its own sound, just remember not to give them the sound they have in English.

10. Ronronear

It means “purr” and this word is quite a challenge, again thanks to the “R’s”. Although it has no double R’s, you don’t have to have two R’s for a hard R to appear. This means that in the word “ronronear”, you have two hard R’s (the first two) and one soft R (the last one).

11. Otolaryngologist

It means “Otolaryngologist” and generally medical terms are very difficult to pronounce in many languages, and Spanish is no exception. An otolaryngologist is an otorhinolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat) doctor.

While in English the acronym “ENT” is cleverly used to avoid having to pronounce this word, in Spanish this is not the case. It’s best that you learn how to pronounce this word before it’s your turn to go to the hospital without knowing how to pronounce it.

12. Verde

It means “green”. The “r-d” combination in the Spanish language is a really tricky tongue movement for English speakers, due to the rapid movements you have to make to switch from one consonant to another. Strive for the first syllable and that difficult “r”, then let the “d” be smoother. Another word with this combination is “tarde”

Hardest Spanish tongue-twisters

Spanish as a language with many difficult to pronounce words also has some fun and challenging tongue twisters. These popular tongue twisters are a very good way to practice pronunciation thanks to the difficult sounds they contain. Repeating them over and over will help your tongue feel more confident in pronouncing the Spanish sounds. Don’t be afraid to try out these tongue twisters and give them a try.

¿Cómo quieres que te quiera si el que quiero no me quiere como quiero que me quiera?

This phrase helps you understand how to pronounce the “qu” in Spanish. The English translation is “How do you want me to like you if the person I want to like you doesn’t like me the way I want them to like me?”. It would mean that you are actually asking somebody who likes you (or who wants you to like him/her) how can you like him/her if the one you like doesn’t like you back. 

Pablito clavó un clavito en la calva de un clavito. Un clavito clavó Pablito en la calva de un calvito. ¿Qué clavito clavó Pablito?

A rather funny tongue twister that helps you pronounce “cla”. It means “Pablito nailed a nail in a bald man’s bald head”. A little nail Pablito drove into a bald man’s bald head. What little nail did Pablito drive?”. He means that Pablito drove a nail into the head of a bald man. I doubt this is legal, better practice the tongue twister and don’t try this at home. 

Tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en tres tristes trastos sentados tras un trigal.

This tongue twister will help you pronounce the difficult combination “Tr” in Spanish. It means “Three sad tigers swallowed wheat in three sad utensils sitting behind a wheat field”. It is important to note that most tongue twisters do not make sense if translated directly into English.

Pancha plancha con cuatro planchas. ¿Con cuántas planchas Pancha plancha?

Its direct translation would be “Pancha iron with four irons, with how many irons does Pancha iron?” again it doesn’t make much sense, but basically it talks about a person called “Pancha” who irons his clothes. This tongue twister centers on the “p” and “pl” sounds. These sounds are not very difficult for English-speaking learners of Spanish. Nevertheless, it is a useful tongue twister to assist you with pronunciation.

El perrito de Rita me irrita, dile a Rita que cambie el perrito por una perrita.

Its direct translation would be “Rita’s little boy dog irritates me, tell Rita to change the little boy dog for a little girl dog.” Is a classic tongue twister to learn how to trill the “R” sound.

Treinta y tres tramos de troncos trozaron tres tristes trozadores de troncos y triplicaron su trabajo de trozar troncos.

Another fun tongue twister to practice the pronunciation of the “Tr” combination. Its exact translation would be: thirty-three lengths of logs were cut by three sad log splitters and they tripled their log splitting work.

La araña con maña amaña la laña. La araña con maña es una tacaña.

The translation would be “The crafty spider fiddles the spider. The crafty spider is a cheapskate.” and it is a tongue twister to practice the special Spanish letter: the “Ñ”. If you still have trouble pronouncing this letter, practice with this tongue twister several times!

Image by shurkin_son via Freepik

Practice Your Pronunciation With Native Teachers 

Learning Spanish offers many advantages, including landing great jobs and earning more money. If you have good pronunciation, those benefits are even more probable.

Now you are ready to practice your pronunciation and improve your Spanish with this list of the most difficult Spanish words to pronounce. Remember to pronounce the Spanish words carefully and memorize some tongue twisters to help you with your pronunciation, and also practice regularly to master the new sounds and get your mouth and tongue familiar with the foreign pronunciations. Don’t be disappointed if you have difficulty with new words, especially if they are difficult, like the ones on this list. You may even get some Spanish speakers who also have a hard time with them.

If you want to start studying Spanish and understand more of these words and tongue twisters and have someone to correct you, start today by signing up for a free 1:1 class today or for a 7-day trial of group lessons and discover why SpanishVIP’s teaching methods will help you get up to date in record time.

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