Spanish Pronunciation

Every time I travel or am living abroad and hear foreigners attempting to speak the language of the country, it thrills me. Even offering a hello, a thank you, or a good bye to another in their language can bring a rewarding smile or handshake. In France, it might earn you a bisous (a kiss on the cheek).

When I am in Central America and I hear a person, for example, from North America attempting to speak Spanish, it is great. Sometimes, they speak surprisingly well. But, speaking and prounouncing are two separate matters.

A foreigner who is fluent, but who does not pronounce the language well may have learned the language, but still lacks a cornerstone in what we can call their "language learning pyramid".

And, a pyramid without a cornerstone will not hold and has been poorly constructed. A basketball player must learn how to properly shoot and a golfer must learn how to swing. If not, they will not develoop good habits in their form. Bad pronouniation is bad form.

Learning proper pronunication in the beginning stages of language acquisition is much easier than correcting bad pronunication later.

In any regard, that's why I'm mentioning it here. From the get-go, we will always need to monitor our pronounciation. It might not be perfect, but we will reach for it. While it will prove difficult at first, make it one of your highest priorities at first. Don't allow it to deter you from trying. Having the correct tone, inflexion, and stress will only take you a while to get down. In only a few months, you'll be much more understood and comfortable when speaking.


Spanish Alphabet & Vowels:

The Spanish alphabet has just about as many letters as we do. In fact, they have a few more. They have a couple of extra symbols that are attached to already recognizable letters that they have labeled as additional alphebet members.

An accent that is put over the syllable of a word changes how that word is pronounced. The accent symbol is (´).

Another symbol, called the tilde (~), is used above the letter 'N', to give it a nasal-driven sound that we will discuss. The tilde-N is (N) and is prounounced:

EHN-ay

The other letters that the Spanish use is the (Ch), pronounced 'Cha'.

Spanish is a phonetic language. That is great news for us, because it means that every letter you see is pronounced. If you see the word:

LIBRO

you know that it is prounounced 'LEEY-BRO'. English is quite different in this regard. If you see the word 'KNOT', we pronounce it 'NOT', as an example.


Spanish Vowels & Pronuciation:

 

A - ah
E - eh
I - ee
O - oh
U - oo


These vowels are prounounced above as they look. There are slight differences, however, if two are put together.

Strong Spanish Vowels: A, E, O.

Week Spanish Vowels: I, U

While it will come more with practice, we can mention that pronuciation in Spanish relies on the proper placement of stress on a word. If a strong 'A' and a weak 'I' get together, the stress is placed where the 'A' appears.

Ex. Strong + Weak
Bailar - BYE-lar (to dance)
*Emphasis is on the first half of the word.

Ex. Weak + Weak
Ciudad - see-oo-DAD (city)
*The last weak vowel becomes strong and we put emphasis there.

Ex. Stong + Strong
Realidad - RAY-AL-ee-dad (reality) *The vowels are separated and become their own syllables.

Ex. Words with an accent
Dia - Dee-ah (day) *When an accent is included, the word is prounounced as different syllables.


Special Combinations

As in English, langauges often come chalk-full of nuances and small rules that we have to learn. At this point, since we are just beginning, a minor grasp of what we are talking about now will help you later. Don't worry about memorizing all the rules now. This is just a quick overview meant to help you get some of the first rules under you belt before we encounter words later that might seem strange.

Some words in Spanish use a 'gue'. 'gui' or 'que' combination. If you see these letters together, remember that the 'u' is always silent.

Ex. Guitar - gee-TAR
*The 'gui' is prounounced with a long 'ee' sound as in the word 'green'.

One rare sight you might see is the letter 'U'. If this symbol is present, a normal 'U' sound is pronounced.

Three simple rules to remember to prouncounce most Spanish words correctly:

1) A word that ends in a vowel, 'N' or 'S', stress is on the second to the last syllable.

2) A word that ends in a constant, which is not 'N' or 'S', stress is placed on the last syllable.

3) If a word ends in some other letter, an accent will be used to indicate which syllable where stress should be placed.

Examples:

Joven - HOE-vehn (young male)

Ventana - ven-TA-na (window)

Verdad - ver-DAD (truth, correct)

Ella Hablo - ay-ya hab-LO (She talked.)


Some Final Pronunciation Points

1) 'B' and 'V' in Spanish sound the same. They are pronounced with the 'B' as in 'bubble'. It is not an explosive 'B' sound, but slight.
Ex. Voy a los estados. - Boy ah los es-TA-dos (I'm going to the States.)

2) 'C' will sound like a soft 'S' if there is an 'I' or 'E' after it.
Ex. Cielo - see-AY-low (sky, the heavens)

3) 'C' will sound like a 'K' if it is followed by any other vowels.
Ex. Carro - KAH-rroh (car)

4) 'G' will sound like the 'ga' in goat if followed by A, O, U.
Ex. Gasolina - gas-oh-LEE-nah (gasoline)

5) 'G' will sound like the 'H' as in the word 'Happy' if followed by an 'E' or 'I'.
Ex. Gimnasio - him-NAH-see-oh (gym)


The Dreaded Roll of the Double 'RR'

The double 'rr' in Spanish will come from practice. Many have said that it is gentically controlled; meaning, that if you cannot roll your Rs, then it is because your tongue is not capable. That's not the truth. Rolling your RRs comes only with practice - to some easier than others. When you see a double 'rr' in a word, you can roll your tongue two to three times.

Ex. Carro - KAH-rrrow (car)

A single 'R' in spanish can sometimes be pronounced with a slight double 'rr' sound. This occurs when a single 'r' begins the word. Here, you only need to roll your tongue slightly, maybe 1 ? times.

Ex. Rodeo - rrow-Dee-oh (rodeo)

A single 'R' in a word also has a slight double 'RR' sound when the letters 'L', 'N', 'S', or 'O' come before it.

Ex. Sonrisa - son-RREE-sah (smile)
Ex. Libro - LEE-brro

Final Pronunciations Tid-bits:

An 'H' in Spanish is silent, no matter the word.

A 'J' in Spanish is always prouncounced with an English 'Ha' sound
Ex. Jabon - ha-bohn (Soap)

A 'J' in Spanish is always prouncounced with an English 'Ha' sound
Ex. Jabon - ha-bohn (Soap)

A 'Z' in Spanish is pronounced as a soft 'S' in English as in the name 'Sarah'.
Ex. Zoo - soh (zoo)

An 'X' in Spanish is prounounced with a 'KS' sound as in 'banks'.
Ex. Exactamente - ehk-sahk-ta-men-tay