The Spanish Sounds
Overview – The Sounds
Correct pronunciation of Spanish words makes everything about the language easier for you, and those you speak to, to understand. This section will focus on the “sounds” of Spanish including vowels, diphthongs, consonants, and all those “weird” sounds.
New words are easy to pronounce in Spanish thanks to its vowels. There are only 5 vowel phonemes in Spanish and they are each only pronounced one way. English has the same 5 vowels, but are pronounced 12 different ways (I live well. vs. I went to a live show of that band.) Below, you will find the phoneme (outlined in /slant brackets/), an approximate pronunciation guide, and examples in English and in Spanish.
In general, all vowels are shorter in Spanish than in English. Take the letter “O” for example. When we say the letter “O” in English, it sounds a little like “Oooohwa.” In Spanish, it is muuuuch shorter. Almost like the sound a gorilla would make: “Oh.” Keep this in mind when practicing your Spanish vowels. You´ll sound much more native with short vowels rather than long southern-belle vowels.
|Spanish Vowel Sounds|
|/a/ = “ah”||father, saw||papa, agua|
|/e/ = “eh”||met, bed||esperanza, bebe|
|/i/ = “ee”||bee, leaf||sí, chica|
|/o/ = “oh”||low, know||loco, bonito|
|/u/ = “oo”||sue, do||grupo, futuro|
Now that you know the 5 basic vowel sounds, you can sound out any combination. When you see two vowels next to each other, one strong (a, e, o) and one weak (i, u) or two weak vowels, all you have to do is combine the two vowels you see into one syllable; this is called a diphthong.
for the word “aire”, make the /a/ sound and then immediately after, make the sound for /i/. Say it faster and faster until it is one syllable. This is the diphthong.
|au||/a/ + /u/ = “ow!”||au-la, aun-que|
|ai, ay||/a/ + /i/ = “ay ay ay!”||ai-re, hay|
|eu||/e/ + /u/ = * this sound doesn´t exist in English, but is kind of similar to “eeew!”||Eu-ro-pa, neu-tro|
|ei, ey||/e/ + /i/ = “hey”||rei-na, rey|
|ia||/i/ + /a/ = “yah!”||pia-no, ha-cia|
|ie||/i/ + /e/ = “yeck!”||tie-rra, ser-pien-te|
|io||/i/ + /o/ = “yo yo”||ra-dio, u-nión|
|iu||/i/ + /u/ = “you”||viu-da, ciu-dad|
|oi, oy||/o/ + /i/ = “toy”||boi-na, hoy|
|ua||/u/ + /a/ = “water”||a-gua, cua-dro|
|ue||/u/ + /e/ = “wet”||fue-go, true-no|
|ui||/u/ + /i/ = “wee!”||fui-mos, huir|
|uo||/u/ + /o/ = “whoa”||cuo-ta, in-di-vi-duo|
Luckily, consonants in Spanish have very regular pronunciations once you learn the rules and there are only 18! For each consonant sound, you will see the letters that can represent the sound, a little pronunciation guide in comparison to English sounds, as well as a few examples in Spanish.
|/b/ – “veh”||represented by the letters \ and . If ‘b’ or fall at the beginning of a word or after a consonant, it is pronounced like the letter ‘b’ in English. For all other instances, it is pronounced like a combination of ‘b’ and||barco, vaca, abuelo, ave|
|/?/ – “che”||represented by the letter combination and pronounced the same in English and Spanish.||chocolate, chico, chicharrón|
|/d/ – “deh”||represented by the letter and pronounced the same in English and Spanish. Can also sound like the in “the” when it falls between two vowels and follows or .||hard /d/: dos, cada, diablo soft /d/: caldo, vender|
|/f/ – “effe”||represented by the letter and pronounced the same in English and Spanish.||familia, fama, profesor|
|/g/ – “heh”||represented by the letter . When followed by is pronounced as a “hard” like the English word “get.”||gigante, gordo, gusto|
|/h/ – “hache”||represented by the letter and when the is followed by . It is pronounced the same in English and Spanish with the Spanish version being a little more “throaty.”||jirafa, gesto, gigante|
|/k/ – “kah”||represented by the letter when followed by , the letter when followed by , and the letter . All letters are pronounced like the in “kite.”||casa, comida, Cuba, que, quince, kilo|
|/l/ – “elle”||represented by the letter and pronounced the same in English and Spanish.||loco, leche, lobo|
|/m/ – “emeh”||represented by the letter and pronounced the same in English and Spanish.||mamá, calma, malo|
|/n/ – “eneh”||represented by the letter and pronounced the same in English and Spanish.||no, nada, nadie|
|/ñ/ – “enyeh”||represented by the letter and pronounced like the letter combination in “canyon.”||señorita, baño, niño|
|/p/ – “peh”||represented by the letter ‘p’ and pronounced the same in English and Spanish.||papa, pequeño, pelo|
|/r/ – “ere”||represented by the letter . When does not begin a word nor follow a , then it is pronounced by making an /r/ sound while tapping the roof of your mouth with your tongue. The /r/ sound is very similar to the /d/ sound made by the in “little.”||oro, para, pero|
|/rr/ – “erre”||represented by the letter combination and the letter when it begins a word or when it is preceded by . The /rr/ is pronounced by trilling your tongue while making the /r/ sound. Try purring like a cat or making the sound of a revving engine to make the trill. It will come more naturally with practice.||ratón, alrededor, Enrique, Israel, terremoto|
|/s/ – “ese”||represented by the letter ‘s’, the letter when followed by , or the letter . It is pronounced the same in English and Spanish.||salsa, celoso, cinco, zapato|
|/100064/t/ – “teh”||represented by the letter and is pronounced the same in English and Spanish.||tango, televisor, bonita|
|/w/ – “ve doble”||represented by the letter when it is followed by . It is pronounced like the English in “wonderful.”||cuando, fuego, cuidado, cuota|
|/y/ – “i griega”||represented by the letter , by the letter ‘i’ when followed by (see diphthongs), and the letter combination . In general it is pronounced like the English in “yes.” It can also be pronounced like the in “genre” or the in “shallow” depending on the region.||yo, piano, tierra, radio, viuda, llamo|
1) Listen to the alphabet here and repeat each letter sound to practice your pronunciation. Pay attention to the vowels!
2) Write out the following words and circle the diphthongs that you see. Try pronouncing each word aloud, separating them into syllables.