Home Speech-Language Pathology How do Phonological Processes Differ Between Spanish and English?

How do Phonological Processes Differ Between Spanish and English?

by Scott Prath

cartoon boy saying Hello and Hola

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on serving bilingual students. Other articles in the series include, “Red Flags for Speech and Language Impairment in Bilingual Children,” and “Tips on Writing Articulation Goals for Second-Language Learners,

In response to previous article I wrote on identifying and treating bilingual students, savvy ASHA readers asked the question: What about Phonology?!

There is an easy and more comprehensive answer to this question. If you just need quick information, the links above should suffice. For those of you who desire a deeper answer or who nerd out on phonology (you know who you are) keep reading.

How phonology is the same in Spanish and English

For all the intrinsic differences among languages, nearly all phonological processes you expect to see in English you also see in Spanish. Why? Phonology is rule-based and sound systems tend to develop with many similar tendencies across languages. The Venn diagram below shows how Spanish and English share almost all of the same phonological processes. The two differences relate to English not possessing a trilled /r/ and Spanish not containing vowels normally neutralized in vocalization.

Spanish-English Venn diagram

Image courtesy of Bilinguistics

How phonology is different in Spanish and English

Here is where the wheels come off the wagon a bit, but hang in there because we have snazzy charts to help it all make sense.

Phonology differs by age. While Spanish and English share most processes, they are not expected to be extinguished by the same age. See the chart below for examples:

Typical Phonological Processes

Typical Phonological Processes by Age

Fabiano and Goldstein, 2010; Goldstein and Iglesias, 2006; Shriberg, 1995
Taken from: Developmental Speech and Language Norms for Spanish and English – Bilinguistics 2015


Phonological processes can occur more often or less often for bilingual speakers when speaking in their second language (English) than for monolingual speakers of English.

In the next chart (below) we see how frequently phonological processes occurred for monolingual and bilingual speakers during the administration of the Bilingual Articulation and Phonology Assessment. Overall, bilingual students present with more phonological processes. We attribute this to a combination of normal developmental phonological processes combined with the acquisition of English sounds and rule patterns.

Does this mean bilinguals are at a disadvantage? No. It means, in addition to the normal phonological processes occurring during development as a result of motor constraints, children who grow up with two languages use additional phonological processes as a normal result of language influence. Our job as SLPs is to know what these patterns look like—and that they are normal—so we can make accurate diagnostic decisions.

Kester (2016) as cited in Developmental Speech and Language Norms for Spanish and English – Bilinguistics 2016

Let’s sort this all out and conclude with an example.

You receive your testing results back and your bilingual child presents with stopping, final consonant deletion, and gliding that are not age appropriate. You look at the chart above and notice bilingual children present with more frequent use of stopping and final consonant deletion.

Stopping—You check to see if all the sounds the child is stopping exist in both Spanish and English. They do. Good goal!

Final consonant deletion—Only S,N, R, L, and D (remember SNaRLeD) can exist in the final position in Spanish. You student’s errors include errors on final sounds such as T and M, which are not on that list. Not a good goal.

Gliding—Gliding development is generally the same. Just to be sure, you check his age against the first chart and he should have mastered this sound in both languages at his age. Good goal!


Scott Prath, MA, CCC-SLP, is vice president of Bilinguistics in Austin, Texas, and serves a diverse caseload in schools and early childhood settings. He has written and co-written several books and apps, and is a lead writer for The Speech Therapy Blogscott.prath@bilinguistics.com



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