Spanish pronounciation

If you had problems learning English’s rules and exceptions to the rules—and the exceptions to the exceptions—and are hesitant to go through that again, don’t worry! Unlike English—in which the words “snow plow” look like they would rhyme but in actuality do not—Spanish pronunciation has only one rule—each letter, or combination of letters, always, ALWAYS has the same sound.

Once you learn the pronunciation of each vowel, consonant, and the handful of special combinations (such as the double “L”), you’ll be able to sound out any word you come across from Tijuana to Punta Arenas, and all the way “across the pond” in Spain.

If you cannot “trill” your double r’s, don’t stress about it. It will come, or it won’t. Not being able to pronounce some of the combinations will not ruin your chances of being fluent, or of being understood.

Below is a quick list of the Spanish pronunciation rules (the letters and the sounds they will always make):

A “father”
B/V boy”
C CA, CO, CU – “college” / CE, CI – “cell”
CH chief”
D date.” In some countries, “D” can sometimes take on a “th” sound.
E “spectacular”
F fire”
G GA, GO, GU – “golf” / GE, GI – “hot”
H Always silent, as in “hour”
I “see
J happy”
K Ketchup”
L “call
LL “yah”/”million”
M mother”
N nothing”
Ñ “canyon”
O “no
P “spot”
QU kid”
R rreal”
RR “err” “error” “air” “married” This is usually a longer “r” sound, and trilled if possible.
S salt”
T temple”
U “boo
W watt” or “volt” W is rarely used in Spanish and is mostly reserved for proper or brand names (i.e. Walkman)
X “exit” / +vowel =”h” “Mexicana” (Mexican woman/girl)
Y yes”, unless by itself (meaning “and”), then “see
Z sounds like “s” zapato (shoe)

Here are some vowel combinations you will come across and how they are pronounced:

ai / ay “eye” – hay (there is/are)
au “ow” – fauna (wildlife)
ei “gate” – reino (kingdom)
eu “oo-ay” – nuevo (new)
ia “ya” – limpia (clean)
ie “yea” – tierra (earth, ground)
io “eo” – video (video)
iu “you” – viuda (widow)
oi / oy “oy” – soy (I am)
ua “wa” – guantes (gloves)
ue ay” – Guerra (war)
ui / uy “we” cuidado (care, concern)
uo “wo” cuota (quota)

A Word on ACCENTS

In Spanish, you know where to emphasize the syllable depending on the ending of the word.

If there is no accent over a vowel and the word ends in a vowel or an “s”, emphasis goes on the second to the last syllable (novela, “story”, is pronounced no-VEY-la). If the words is a consonant, the emphasis is on the last syllable (capital, “capital city”, is pronounced ka-pee-TAL)

If there is an accent over a vowel, emphasis is placed on the syllable containing that vowel. Emphasizing the correct syllable is important because it can completely change the meaning of a word when spoken. The following words are identical, except for the location of the emphasized syllable:

father – papá potato – papa
he bought – compró I buy – compro

In writing, an accent can also differentiate words that are pronounced the same, but mean different things, such as the word si (if) and sí (yes).

 

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