Spanish Pronunciation From A To Z: How to Speak Spanish the Right Way

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You can learn Spanish pronunciation not just by listening to native Spanish speakers, but also by comparing written Spanish and English vowels, consonants, diphthongs and triphthongs.

The descriptions given here are approximate: it is not possible to give an exact picture in writing of the pronunciation of Spanish, but we can get pretty close. Some people find it easier to understand pronunciation by written examples because it gives them  definite sources of comparisons to make with their mother tongue.

An attempted representation of the pronunciation is shown between square brackets e.g. [elpérro] = el perro dog. The letters in the square brackets should be given their normal Spanish pronunciation, although a few special signs are used, explained below. Where two pronunciations are shown, the Latin-American version is first.

Pronunciation of Spanish Vowels

Spanish vowels are neither numerous nor complicated, but none of them is exactly like any English vowel sound. They are all short and do not vary in length or quality, whether stressed or not. Compare the English pronunciation of panorama, which has three different a sounds, and the Spanish panorama, which has only one kind of a.

Note: The examples below are using North American English pronunciation as the comparison sound.

Pronunciation of the Spanish “a”

The Spanish a is pronounced like the a in father, but is shorter in duration. Example: cama bed

Pronunciation of the Spanish “e”

This is pronounced like the e in egg. If you know French, a closer example would be the e in café. Example: teme he/she fears

Pronunciation of the Spanish “i”

This is close to the double e (ee) in seen, but much shorter, and with no hint of a y sound at the end. Example sin without

Pronunciation of the Spanish “o”

This is a bit tricky because there is no exact equivalent in English of the Spanish o sound. However, it’s close to a cross between the o in hot and the o in note. Example: somos we are

Pronunciation of the Spanish “u”

The Spanish u is close in sound to the oo in good, but with rounded lips. It’s definitely not like the oo in food, which is too long and has a slight w sound at the end. Example: luz light (i.e. electric light)

Tips on Pronouncing Spanish Vowels

English-speakers, American and British, must learn to pronounce adjacent vowels without a trace of a pause (glottal stop), y, r or w sound between them:

  • sea o no whether it is or not is [seaonó], not ‘sayer-ou-nou’
  • lo ha hecho he’s done it is [loaécho], not ‘lo-wa-echou’.

Vowels are not slurred when they are unstressed. Beca (study) grant is [béka] and nothing like the English word baker. The sound of the English a in above or e in the does not exist in Spanish.

Pronunciation of Spanish Diphthongs

  • ai, ay: aisle - hay there is / there are
  • au: cow, but with rounded lips - causa cause
  • ei, ey: day - ley law
  • eu: like e in egg followed by w of well - Europa Europe
  • ie, ye: yes - bien well
  • ia, ya: y of yes + Spanish a - ya already
  • iu: y of yes + Spanish u - la viuda widow
  • oi, oy: boy - hoy today
  • ua: w of want (with rounded lips) + Spanish a - agua water
  • ue: went with rounded lips - bueno good
  • uy: Spanish u + y of.yes - muy very

Words are run together whenever possible without pauses between them: nos han dado una fortuna = [nosandadounafortúna] they’ve given us a fortune. When one word ends in a vowel and the next one begins with a vowel a diphthong is formed if possible and identical vowels are run together to form a very slightly longer vowel. English speakers must avoid inserting a pause or a y or w:

  • ha iniciado [aynisyádo] has initiated (ay as in English eye)
  • la apertura [lapertúra] the opening
  • he indicado [eyndikádo] / have indicated (ey as ay in English day)
  • he entrado [entrádo] I have entered
  • si han dicho [syandicho] if they’ve said (sya like cea in English oceanic)
  • no implica [noymplika] it doesn't imply

Pronunciation of Spanish Triphthongs

These arise when one of the above diphthongs is preceded or followed by a y sound or a w sound:

Comparing to American and British English

  • uai, uay: wise, but with rounded lips - continuáis you continue, Paraguay
  • uei, uey: ways, but with rounded lips -  continuéis you continue (Subjunctive form), buey ox
  • iai: yike - y aire [yáy-re] and air.
  • iei: Yates

Pronunciation of Spanish Consonants

Pronunciation of p, t, k and ch

The letters p, t, k and ch are pronounced as in American and British English except that no puff of breath follows them. A piece of tissue paper hung two inches from the lips should barely move when one says the Spanish words pipa pipe, you, kilo kilogram, chacha housemaid (familiar style, Spain).

The letter t is always pronounced with the tongue against the front teeth and not as in English with the tongue on the ridge of gum behind the front teeth.

Pronunciation of c

The letter c is pronounced as Spanish k before a, o and u: cama bed, cosa thing, el cura the priest.

Before e and i the letter c is pronounced the same as Spanish z, i.e. as c in rice in Latin America and like the th of think in Spain: cinco [sinko]/[thinko] five, central [sen- trál]/[thentrál] central.

Pronunciation of b and v

The letters b and v are pronounced in nearly every position as a soft b, a sound that does not exist in English. It is technically known as a voiced bilabial fricative and is made by holding the lips as for b and murmuring through them; it should be possible to produce the sound as long as you have breath. The sound of English v in vat does not exist in Spanish: the pairs of words tuvo/tubo he had/tube, iba/IVA he was going/Value Added Tax, lavase/la base he washed/the base sound exactly the same in Spanish.

The same two letters are pronounced like the b of big only when they come after n (even between words) or when they occur after a pause): son buenos [sombwénos] they’re good, en Bolivia [embolibya] in Bolivia, ambos [ámbos] both. Note that n is pronounced m before b and v.

Pronunciation of d

The letter d is pronounced like the English th in this, then , lado size, los dados the dice, libertad freedom. The letter d is, however, pronounced like the d of dog (but with the tongue against the front teeth) after n and l (L) and after a pause: han dicho [andicho] they’ve said, cuando [kwándo] when, falda [fálda] skirt, sal de mar [saldemár] sea salt.

Pronunciation of f

The letter f is pronounced the same as it is in English.

Pronunciation of g

The letter g is pronounced like Spanish j before e and i: (see notes on j). It is pronounced like an extremely soft g in nearly every other position, a sound that does not exist in English.

It is technically known as a voiced velar fricative and is made by holding the mouth as for the g in ago and gently releasing air through the throat while murmuring; it should be possible to keep the sound up as long as you have breath: hago I do, laguna pond, Paraguay.

The same letter is pronounced like the English g of go only after n and at the beginning of a word after a pause: son grandes [songrándes] they’re big, sin ganas [singá nas] without enthusiasm/appetite, tengo [téngo] I have. Then must be pronounced like the ng of bring when g follows it.

The combination gue and gui are pronounced as the Spanish g of hago plus e or i; the silent u merely shows that the g is not pronounced like Spanish j: pague [páye] pay, la guirnalda wreath. In the combinations güe and güi the u is pronounced like w , cf. desagüe [deságwe] drain , nicaragüense [nicaraguense] Nicaraguan.

Pronunciation of h

The letter h is always silent in Spanish. Compare the pairs asta/hasta spear/until, ha/a has/to, hecho/echo done/I throw out, which are each pronounced identically. The rule in Spanish is the reverse of English: in Spanish not dropping one's aitches tends to sound illiterate!

Pronunciation of j

The letter j is pronounced in Spain and most of Argentina like the ch in Scottish loch (phonetic sign [χ]). In most of the rest of Latin America it is soft like the hin English hat.G is pronounced like j before e and i: rojo [rroχo] red, ajoχo] garlic , jarra [χárra] jar, general [χenerál] general, gente [χénte] people, rigido [rriχido] rigid.

Pronunciation of L

The letter L is always pronounced like the L in Southern British or Southern Irish leaf.It is not pronounced like the Lin the English cold.Americans and Scots tend to use the latter kind of L even at the beginning of words like leaf, so they must take care over the Spanish sound: lobo wolf, sal salt, natural, gol goal(in soccer).

Pronunciation of double L (ll)

Pronunciation of the double L (ll) varies from region to region.The correct pronunciation in standard Spanish does not correspond exactly to anything in English: it is a palatal L, i.e. L pronounced with the tongue spread flat against the roof of the mouth.

Many English-speakers pronounce it like the li in million, but this is the Spanish sound li in words like alianza alliance, exilio exile . The two words polio polio and pollo chicken sound quite different.

The best solution for English speakers is to pronounce it always like the y of yacht - as millions of Spanish speakers do.This may sound slovenly to some speakers, but it is much better than the li of million. In most of Argentina and Uruguay (and many other regions) it is pronounced like the s of pleasure.

Pronunciation of m

The letter m is pronounced the same as in English.

Pronunciation of n

The letter n as a few sounds depending on where it is placed:

  • The letter n is pronounced as in English before a vowel or d, t, another n, or when nothing follows it: no no, Londres London, antes before, innate innate, son they are.
  • Before all other consonants it is pronounced with the mouth in the same position as for the following consonant, i.e.
  • before k, j, g and c (when c is pronounced k), like ng in song: con kilos [congkilos] with kilos, sin gusto [sing-gusto] without taste, lengua tongue/language, en Colombia [engcolúmbia] in Colombia, banco [bangko] bank/bench.
  • before m, b, p, v, like the m in mouse:en Madrid [emMadrid] in madrid, han bajado [ambehado] they’ve gone down, en Paris [emparís] I, han visto [ambisto] they’ve seen.
  • before ll, y and ch, like ñ (see below): en llamas in flames, en Yepes, ancho wide, en Chile;
  • before f it is pronounced with the tongue and lips in the position for pronouncing f: son fuertes they’re strong, en frente opposite.

Pronunciation of ñ

Ñ is difficult for Americans and Britons. It is a palatal n, i.e. an n pronounced with the tongue flat against the roof of the mouth. It is not the same as the n in onion, which is the Spanish ni in words like Sonia, milenio millennium.

Students should try their pronunciation of the two words huraño shy/unsociable and uranio uranium on a native Spanish-speaker: if the difference of meaning is clear, all is well.

Pronunciation of q

The letter q is found only in the combinations que and qui, which are pronounced [ke] and [ki|. See k (first item in list of consonants) for details: parque park, quiso he wanted.

Pronunciation of r

The letter r between vowels and at the end of words is rather like the d in the American English soda or the r in Scottish English carry: i.e. a single flap of the tongue against the gum ridge. It is not like the r in American or British red, rose.

R is never dropped, as it is in southern British English in words like cart, and it is never pronounced with the tongue curled back, as it is in the USA in words like far.

Examples: Carlos, bar, caro face, mero mere, decir to say.

At the beginning of a word and after n, l and s it is rolled like Spanish rr, e.g. in Roma, alrededor around, honra honour, Israel.

Pronunciation of rr

The double r (rr) is a rolled r (three taps of the tongue). It is important to distinguish between caro dear and carro car/cart, pero but and perro dog.

Pronunciation of s

The letter s is pronounced like s in hiss, not as in rose.

Pronunciation of w

The letter w is found only in foreign words, where it is pronounced like Spanish v and b (see above) : Kiwi, Kuwait etc.

Pronunciation of x

The letter x is pronounced the same as in English in Latin America, but in Spain it is often pronounced s before a consonant: explicar [eksplikar]/[esplikar] explain, but taxi [táksi].

Pronunciation of y

The letter y is like y in yacht. In Argentina it is like the s in pleasure.

Pronunciation of z

The letter z is always pronounced the same as the Spanish c when the latter occurs before e and i, i.e. like ss in hiss in Latin America and as th in think in Spain: haz [as]/[ath] do, las veces [Iasbeses]/[lasbethes] the times.

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