How To Learn Sounds That Do Not Exist In Your Native Language

learning a foreign language
Learning a foreign language. Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

When you are learning a foreign language, it’s possible to come across sounds that you are not familiar with. Much less make them. And it’s possible that as hard as you try, a native speaker is still trying to help you improve. But don’t get discouraged. There are ways to make your efforts more productive. Here are some tips on how to learn sounds that do not exist in your native language.

The first tip is about finding a sound in your native language that is similar to the sound you are learning. It probably is slightly different. But that’s okay. Your main goal is to be understood when you speak. So as long as the similar sound is understandable by native speakers, you’re fine for conversational purpose.

For example, a common sound that Spanish speakers pronounce differently is “s”. Take the word “special”. It’s possible that a Spanish speaker would pronounce that word “es-pecial”. Some people will understand the intention. But there may be some who are unfamiliar with the Spanish language who don’t make the association.

The solution is associating a sound in your native language that is similar enough to the new sound that natives can understand what you intend. The article Learning New Sounds in a Foreign Language goes into details on this topic.

Another tip to learning sounds that do not exist in your native language is simply listening for the sound, both in isolation and in context. Most likely, in your language class, instructors will say the word in isolation. So that would make it easier for you to hear it spoken slowly. But what if you are conversing with someone? Or watching a news program on TV?

A solution is to devote a few minutes a day to hearing the sound. When you are watching TV, listen for the sound. Just spend a few minutes doing so, and then go on and enjoy your program. Don’t attempt to repeat yet. Just let the sound become familiar to you. Again, the article Learning New Sounds in a Foreign Language goes into depth on this.

If you find the ideas in this blog helpful, you might also like Ways to learn English by yourself.

Estrella Chancoaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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