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I'm listening to some of Selena Gomez's Spanish songs (she has a couple), and though I love her music, something feels the tiniest bit off. Her pronunciation doesn't sound quite right, but I can't quite place my finger on what it is exactly.

For example, here's Selena Gomez's "Dices": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_96fwXyUaaU And another one, "Un año sin lluvia": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaoPovB40dQ

What's off about Selena Gomez's pronunciation of Spanish? Or am I in the wrong here and there's in fact nothing wrong with her pronunciation?

High school Spanish student whose pronunciation is plain awful and is looking to improve.

  • If you want to develop a better accent, the best way (in my experience) is to speak with a native speaker often in Spanish. Eventually you will pick up the accent. If you cannot do that, then make sure to listen to the language a lot, such as through movies. – TreeHouse196 Oct 31 '15 at 5:57
  • Music is ok but watching movies and TV are the best ways to enhance your listening skills and get new vocabulary while learning a new language, but at first it is important that you pick the movies according to the level of language you want to learn. If you pick a very old movie or a movie full of slang you may get confused and learn the wrong words. On TV, watching the news is a very good exercise. – DGaleano Oct 31 '15 at 13:33
  • I think music is not the best way to listen to pronunciation. Some words are phonetically modified in order to match the rythm of the music. In Spain musicians changes from castillian (spanish from Spain) to latin spanish in order to match the music, so sometimes they use "s" sound for Cs, while in the next line they use the "z" sound. That is very confusing when learning the language. Btw, Selena Gomez actually doesnt speak spanish – JesusS Nov 2 '15 at 9:11
  • @JesusS I know she doesn't speak Spanish, but she grew up with Spanish in the house (I think) and can understand Spanish very well. – user3932000 Nov 2 '15 at 23:57
  • @user3932000. Not an unusual occurrence throughout the Southwest. – Michael Martinez Nov 6 '15 at 1:03
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They didn't really even bother getting her to speak Spanish here: (she tried one line — with a mistake — and was like, "How was that?"). From the clip in TreeHouse's answer, you can tell a few things:

  • She doesn't properly group words. For example, at one point she says "de un" as two very distinct words with a break in the airstream, whereas a native would say "deun" as a basically a single word.
  • Her vowels are still noticeably influenced by English which in their basic forms are generally diphthongs (where as Spanish's base vowels are all monophthongs). For example, words ending in -o she tends to pronounce as -ou.
  • Cognate words and names she switches quickly back to an English pronunciation (see how she pronounces Univision in Spanish, basically like an English speaker would).
  • She pronounces the Z as we would in English, when the correct pronunciation basically an English S or TH (as in thistle) (depending on dialect, from her, we'd expect S).

Also, in the music clips you provided, the autotuning is very strong and that makes it harder to judge intonation and such (and also makes it sound weirder to those of us not used to overproduced sound).

Songs can be great for practicing pronunciation — especially understanding how to pronounce "between the words", but you'll want to try stuff from actual native speakers that is a bit slower. Gloria Estefan's early stuff is great. Julieta Venegas is a good current artist. I did really well with a number of Tontxu's songs since he's in my vocal range and I could sing it in the car better :-)

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Selena Gomez is not a native speaker of Spanish, and as far as I can tell she does not currently speak the language fluently. Because of this, her accent is not perfect, however it is decent. Her accent also seems better in her music, as you linked to, than in her speech. But if you are looking for a model accent, it is preferable to use a native speaker's.

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In "Dicen", she pronounces the "ce" and "ci" like "se" and "si", while in Spain's Spanish it's pronounced like "ze" and "zi". Technically, this sound should be "alveolar africada sonora", while she pronounces it as "alveolar fricative sonora". It's common in some South American countries, which BTW I bet she targets.

You can read here why this sounds wrong but familiar: the /s/ sounds

Also, she says "bella" like "beya". In Spain's Spanish "ll" is pronounced as /ʎ/ instead of /ʝ ~ j/ (the sound of "y" read in Spanish). This is called Yeismo (turning "ll" to "y"). See more here: Yeismo

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  • I believe the distinction between the two pronunciations--Castilian and American, roughly speaking--is that one is inter-dental or dental and the other is alveolar. Both are generally "sorda" (unvoiced) and not "sonora" (voiced). Both are also fricatives. Niether is an affricate (africada), especially in intervocalic position. There may be some word-initial variant I'm unaware of. – cuevero Sep 8 at 15:40

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