The sound /ŋ/ doesn’t exist in Spanish as a phoneme and is often mispronounced by Spanish speakers of English. However, it is the sound we inadvertently produce it when we say words like banco or vengo (that is, every time we have an n followed by a c or a g), so we are perfectly capable of doing it correctly.
Spelling: ng, nc, nk (sing, hanger, uncle, tank)
/ŋ/ is a difficult sound for Spanish speakers. It is not just an n + g, as we tend to do, but something different, a bit subtler. The usual Spanish way of pronouncing this sound is unlikely to lead to misunderstanding, but it gives the speaker a strong foreign accent.
One key difference is that in the phoneme /ŋ/ the tongue doesn’t touch the alveolar ridge (which happens when you utter an /n/). This is a velar sound, so it is produced at the back of your throat by raising the back of your tongue. So, remember: it is crucial that you don’t touch the alveolar ridge with the tip or your tongue as if you were going to do an /n/.
Let me teach you how to produce the /ŋ/ sound in a simple yet effective way. For that, we are going to borrow the name of a famous actor: Ben Kingsley.
First, let’s say it in two clearly differentiated words:
Now let’s link name and surname. In this case, try not to touch the alveolar ridge with the tip of your tongue. Feel how the back of your tongue raises against the soft-palate in preparation for the /k/.
Now, do it in the same way, but stop immediately before saying the surname. Like this:
This is the sound you have to produce. If you use it with the words sing and singing, this is the result:
which is quite different from saying
Another problem is that Spanish speakers often make the opposite mistake, which is is to produce just an n, without the velar component of the sound. This mostly happens with words ending in ing. Like this:
It’s equally wrong and, although some native speakers do it too, it is generally considered bad pronunciation.
Just say the first syllable and stop before launching into the second and you’ll get it.
Now, let’s hear some native speakers doing this sound. Look at how smoothly the /ŋ/ is produced.
And I think at this time, when we are seeing the economic collapse (Jeremy Irons, BBC4).
As identical twin gynecologist in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (Mark Lawson, BBC4).
Amjad Sabri, one of the countries’ most famous singers, who was gunned down on the streets of Karachi (Samira Ahmed, BBC4).