Is Spanish Ugly Compared To The Sound Of Other Languages?

We have all heard that the ‘Romance’ languages have a pleasing tone and evoke images of flower-lined piazzas. But when I hear some natives speak them, I’m getting more of a vision of rush hour freeway traffic as I head to work in the morning! There are more than a few people that claim Spanish is unpleasant sounding to non-native ears. Could it be true that Spanish is ugly in comparison to other languages or is it just a person’s preference?

When some speak Spanish, it can sound aggressive, rushed, and forced. This could be interpreted as ugly. The sound of Spanish can also be beautiful when someone else uses it. Much of the sound of a language depends on the speaker’s voice quality, speed of delivery, accent, and even emotional state.

There are definite differences between the general sounds of languages. German, for instance, has a deep guttural sound when spoken correctly. Yet when the right person speaks it, it can sound intriguing and interesting. Spanish is no different. Read on to find out the components of Spanish that can make it crass and annoying or melodic and mesmerizing.

The Speed Of Delivery Can Make Spanish Ugly

Linguists François Pellegrino, Christophe Coupé and Egidio Marsico conducted a study with results published in Language (May 2011) that ranks Spanish just under Japanese as the fastest spoken language in regards to syllables per second spoken. So it has indeed been proven true that Spanish is a fast-talking language to study.

LanguageSyllable Rate

Spanish is the second fastest spoken language.

Although many people find Spanish melodic and sing-songy, there are some who find that the speed of its regular conversations are just too rushed, too fast, and the effects of that are to them, yes, ugly.

Admittedly, there is some degree of difference between one person’s talking Spanish too fast and another person’s talking too fast in Spanish.

Talking too speedily, and rushed, can have several adverse effects on successful, effective oral communication. Things such as elocution, coherency, annunciation, and intelligibility can be significantly affected by talking too fast. This hinders both professional and personal conversation.

Just think about when you hear people talking really fast. Often the sound is high-pitched or even screeching. This is not pleasing to human (or for that matter, canine) ears.

In addition, talking really fast often causes people to get out of breath. It’s annoying to have to listen to anyone breathing heavily in a conversation. You just want it to stop, right?

Last, when talking really fast, it is common for people to stutter or get tongue-tied. That’s not fun for the listener. It means they might miss part of the conversation, causing a drop in comprehension.

Now, putting all of this together, for those learning Spanish as a second or other language, the fast speed can severely raise its acquisition difficulty for the learner.

Personally, I think Spanish sounds poetic and lovely to hear. But with many of the drawbacks I’ve just described that happen from fast-paced languages, it shouldn’t be surprising that some think Spanish sounds ugly.

The Quality Of A Person’s Voice Matters To The Sound Of A Language

If you’re from the U.S., then you are certainly familiar with the varying accents that you’ll hear from east to west and north to south. From the typical Bostonian dropped ‘r’ as in ‘cah’ for car to the southern ‘y’all’ for you all, there is quite a variety that changes the quality of sound you hear.

Then, of course, there are things we do that affect our voice quality. Smoking negatively affects voice quality, making it very harsh, deep, and scratching. Hmmm, not a pretty sound at all!

Singers and those who project their voice a lot such as in certain professions often harm the quality of their voice over time.

And then there are just differences from one person to another. Some obviously have a more pleasing sound than others. There are definitely those people who have a nice, pleasing voice meant for radio or the communications field.

Here’s something to consider. Is this ugly?

If you are being honest, it is definitely beautiful. Spanish can definitely be beautiful.

So we should keep all of this in mind when thinking about Spanish language sound as a whole. There’s going to be some degree of differences from one native Spanish speaker to another, and certainly from one Spanish speaking country to another. And we’ll look at that in the next section!

Some Spanish Accents Can Be Uglier than Other Spanish Accents

With Spanish spoken by over 480 million as a first or mother tongue and listed as the official language in 21 countries or territories (Source: Nations Online), there are many different accents even though the language is common.

So let’s take a look at how some Spanish accents are different and how you can recognize a few of the countries when hearing a native Spanish speaker. As well, you should keep this in mind if you start Spanish language learning yourself because you may want to focus on one accent over another. (Here’s an article I’ve written providing 21 useful tips for learning Spanish to help you on your journey.)

  • Latin accent: It is common for all Latin American countries that speak Spanish to pronounce “c” and “z” like an “s”.
  • European Spanish (Castilian) accent: In Spain, the ‘s’ and ‘z’ are pronounced differently. Instead, the letter Z sounds similar to TH in English. As well, it is generally described as quite lispy.
  • Mexican accent: It is sometimes said that the Mexican accent is slower and like someone is out of breath or straining.
  • Caribbean Spanish accent: Their sound is a bit twangy and they often drop end syllables.
  • Argentinians are often compared to Italians in their accent.
  • Dominican accent: Those are usually considered the fastest Spanish talkers.
  • Peruvian accent: Many have said the Peruvian is the most beautiful to hear.

So with so many countries speaking Spanish and the variations in dialects and accents, there are bound to be some that are considered lovelier than others and likewise, some uglier than others.

However, it may not be mere coincidence that the Dominican Republic is often given as the country that has the ugliest Spanish accent AND it happens to be known as the country with the fastest Spanish.

All Languages Can Be Ugly When Someone Is Angry Or Aggressive

Most consider the British/English accent especially pleasing with its evenly stressed syllables, aristocratic connotations, and absence of upspeak even with interrogatives. Nevertheless, as pleasing and popular as it is, Mr. Gordon Ramsey, well-known chef and T.V. personality, has proven it can be ugly, that is when aggressive.

In fact, he’s as known for his screams and yells that can turn a lovely British accent to something so ugly he’s in/famous, as he is for being a 3-star Michelin chef!

Characteristics of aggressive sounding language: breathiness, loud, harsh, and forceful.

Spanish is known as often dramatic language-being that it is the second fastest language. Drama and speed can be synonymous with aggression. Thus, we have Spanish sometimes considered ‘ugly’.

Male vs Female Voices Can Change The Sound Of Spanish

Some languages can sound completely different when spoken by a man or a woman. This is due to the deeper voices that we usually hear from men and the higher many times softer voices from women. But this is not always the case.

Take Korean for example. In this Asian culture it is not only acceptable, but many times deemed attractive for women to have a slight whine in their voices. This becomes more or less pronounced depending on the person, age, and environment.

When taking Korean, many men will advise other men not to have women as speaking partners for practice. It is not a sexist thing, claiming that women are not good language tutors.

It is due to the fact that a male Korean language learner may ‘sound like a woman’ to other men if their main practice is with women. No one wants spontaneous laughter while they are attempting to speak a new language.

In more or less the same way, women and men talk differently by practice and not simply by tone of voice in many languages. This can contribute to someone thinking Spanish is a pretty or ugly language.

Some may have an affinity for the male or the female voice even before any of the other factors above come into play. It lends credence to the thought that the designation of ‘ugly’ just may have as much to do with the listener as the speaker.

The Final Ugly Spanish Talking Point

Let’s look back at what we’ve learned about the question, “Is Spanish Ugly Compared To The Sound Of Other Languages?

We looked at several factors that affect a language’s spoken appeal such as quality of voice, varying accents, and aggression.

However, ultimately, it seems the root of some thinking that Spanish sounds ugly is its speed and the after effects from that diminishing clarity and comprehension.

If you have a problem with the Spanish language sound, I hope that knowing more about the whys behind it can help you learn to better appreciate this dramatic language of over 480 peoples of the world!

Additional Sources:

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, department leader at various levels and organizations, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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