What if I cannot hear a tiny difference between similar Spanish sounds?

Can I still go on studying Spanish if I cannot distinguish tiny differences between similar Spanish words?

For example:

  • pino y vino

  • poca y boca

  • cama y gama.

I once asked a native speaker to speak those words slowly and clearly, but unfortunately I was unable to distinguish them.

Can I continue to studying Spanish if I can't speak them correctly?

  • 2
    Most of the times context should help you to identify the correct word your interlocutor is using. Spanish is very descriptive, but you should rely also on the context to understand it.
    – Bardo
    Mar 27 '14 at 13:17

For Spanish is difficult to see the difference between words like sheet - shit , sheep - ship, leave - live, this - these, it - eat. Short i vs long e sounds equals most of the times, when I pronounce it I have to think about it and even that I still ask to myself If I am right, but I do not give up, it is something you have to deal when you learn a new language and the more you listen-practice the best would be for you.

Spanish /p/ sound is similar to your /p/ on s/p/it, /b/ is softer than in English.

Some tricks:

  1. If you put your hand in front of your mouth /p/ provokes air and /b/ no. Like in English /p/in vs /b/in.
  2. If you put your hand in front of your mouth /p/ on s/p/it provokes less air than in /p/ut.
  • Yeah, we have to deal with those sounds. The language it's practice, practice and more practice Mar 17 '14 at 16:38

Everyone has an accent or dialect, and some even have a speech impediment like a lisp. There is no perfect way to pronounce a language. As long as you can put together the right syllables in the right order (with the right intonation), you can be understood.

It would be no different if you were an American traveling to small-town Ireland or Scotland or some Cockney dialect in England. All regions slur their words into something that works and evolves for them.

Therefore, you should not be discouraged from learning Spanish simply because you cannot notice the subtle differences in similar sounding words. Furthermore, the context of the speech should allow you to make the best guess as to what they are saying. For instance, Pongo la comida en mi boca. If you hear the sentence and think for some odd reason that the speaker said Pongo la comida en mi poca, then you need to practice your Spanish more and more. Context is everything.

I come from a very redneck, mountainous, Appalachian area in the United States so I have heard A LOT of mispronunciations throughout my life, some of which I doubt any foreigner would catch onto. For example, I often hear the old-timers around here say Nary for Not even, Ni siquiera. https://www.google.com/search?q=nary -- which could easily be confused for Merry, something completely different.

The more regions you visit (Spanish speaking) and the more dialects you communicate to, the more you will recognize the subtleties and differences, like how Castillian Spanish in Spain makes a 'th' sound for the 'S' sound.


It's going to be hard to keep learning until you can distinguish those sounds, but fortunately, it's a question of time. Keep at it, keep hearing clear samples of the words and soon you will be able to differentiate between them. It's the same for anyone trying to learn a language which uses uncommon (for them) sounds.

So work on it and you will overcome it soon enough!


If you did not grow up hearing these sounds, your brain will need time to acclimate to them. Just keep on studying, and in any case, you can always still read and write in Spanish, which are valuable skills sought by many employers.


You can continue studying Spanish, but it is better if you spend time working in phonetic.

I can try to help you with your examples:

cama y gama -> the difference between /k/ (the letter "c" is represented as /k/) and /g/ is that with /g/ you have to produce the sound using your throat, with /k/ you have not to use it.

pino y vino/boca -> the difference between /p/ and /b/ (the sound of "v" is /b/) is the difference use of your lips.

The best way to learn that is that web, is easy and simple: http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/spanish/frameset.html


Might be kinda silly, but try saying "pbpbpbpb" or "cgcgcgcgc" and your mouth will simply get the difference. You'll notice that p is for b what c is for g:

P can't be hold, it just has a dry pronunciation. B can be hold because you're using your lips to hold some of the air coming out of your mouth. The difference is more clear in C, that's pronounced on a spot of your palate that can't hold it any long, and G is pronounced slightly closer to your throat, on a looser/wetter spot where you can hold the letter as long as you want.

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