Pronouncing words in Spanish

Phonemes

To speak Spanish confidently, it’s good to know how to pronounce words correctly.

Spanish is a phonetic language. This means that apart from some exceptions, letters in Spanish are always pronounced in the same way, and unlike English, you mostly pronounce all the letters in a word.

However, Spanish pronunciation is different from English. Knowing about Spanish phonemes, and how to say them together correctly to pronounce words, will help you.

It is especially important to know how to say words that may look similar to English ones but could sound quite different.

For example:

  • inteligente - intelligent

  • garaje - garage

A phoneme is a unit of sound. When you put the different sounds together, they make words.

In Spanish most letters of the alphabet sound the same as in English with some exceptions.

  • j - sound in back of throat
'j' sound

  • rr - a rolled sound
'rr' sound

  • z - a ‘th’ sound
'z' sounds

  • c (when followed by e or i) is a ‘th’ sound.
'c' sounds when followed by 'e' or an 'i'

'c' sounds when followed by 'e' or an 'i'

  • v is pronounced more like a 'b' sound.
'v' sounds

'v' sounds

  • qu is pronounced as a 'k' sound.
'qu' sounds

There are two extra letters in Spanish ('ll' and 'ñ') with their own particular sounds.

  • ll is pronounced like an English 'y'.
The 'll' sound

  • ñ is pronounced like the 'ny' in the English word 'canyon'.
The 'ñ' sound

Vowels

Vowels in Spanish are the same as in English. Unlike in English, however, where vowels can change depending on other letters around them, in Spanish they always keep the same sound.

With cognates, think carefully about the Spanish sound that you need to make for each vowel, so that you sound as Spanish as possible.

Cognates are words in a foreign language that look similar to English.

For example:

Vowels - 'a'

Vowels - 'e'

Vowels - 'i'

Vowels - 'o'

Vowels - 'u'

Accents

Some Spanish words need accents. These help you to say the word correctly, as it shows where the stress needs to go within a word.

All accents in Spanish point the same way and are only found on vowels. For example:

  • á

  • é

  • í

  • ó

  • ú

Accent on 'é'

Accent on 'ó'

Accent on 'ú'

It is useful to learn when to use an accent, mainly because sometimes it can change the meaning of the word.

For example:

  • él = he

  • el = the

  • = yes

  • si = if

Common groups of letters

There are some combinations of letters that create different sounds.

  • The letter c makes a soft ‘th’ sound before -e or -i.
The letter 'c' before an 'e' or an 'i'

The letter 'c' before an 'e' or an 'i'

  • The letter c makes a hard ‘k’ sound before -a, -o and -u.
The letter 'c' before an 'a', an 'o' or a 'u'

The letter 'c' before an 'a', an 'o' or a 'u'

  • The letter g makes a soft ‘j’ sound before -e and -i.
The letter 'g' before an '-e' or an '-i'

The letter 'g' before an '-e' or an '-i'

  • The letter g makes a hard ‘g’ sound before -a, -o and -u.
The letter 'g' before an '-a', an '-o' or a '-u'

The letter 'g' before an '-a', an '-o' or a '-u'

Silent letters

  • The letter h is always silent in Spanish.
The letter 'h' is always silent

  • The letter u is always silent after a q.
The letter 'u' is always silent after a 'q'

  • The letter u is sometimes silent, after a g, when followed by e or i.
The letter 'u' is sometimes silent 'g' when followed by '-e' or '-i'

The letter 'u' is sometimes silent 'g' when followed by '-e' or '-i'

  • However, sometimes a u that comes after a g and is followed by e or i will have this mark above it: ü. In that case you do have to pronounce it.
- The letter 'ü' following a 'g'

The letter 'ü' following a 'g'

Quiz

Find out how much you know about Phonics in Spanish with this short quiz!

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