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The Alphabet in Spanish 🔤

The Spanish ALPHABET (+ Why It Has MORE Letters Than English) 🔤 [SPANISH LESSON 7]

Introduction

The Spanish alphabet consists of 27 letras (27 letters), that is, one more letter in relation to the English alphabet, which has 26. Knowing the alphabet will allow you to spell tu nombre (your name) and a bunch of other words in Spanish.

Table of Contents

The Vowels

One of the beauties of Spanish is that, unlike other languages, its vowels are pronounced the same way siempre (always). 

  • Letra A (letter A) – to pronounce it, try to replicate the [a] sound in “father”.
  • Letra E (letter E) – to pronounce it correctly, think of the word elote (corn)  
  • Letra I (letter I) – this one sounds like the letter E in English
  • Letra O (letter O) – unlike English, where the O is sort of rounded with the lips, the pronunciation of la letra O is shorter or sharper
  • Letra U (letter U) – in English, this vowel is pronounced as if there were an I in front of it, but in Spanish, eso no pasa (that doesn’t happen)

The Consonants

Same as in English, after la letra A comes la letra B [beh] (letter B). To pronounce it, say ‘bebé’ (baby).

Next, la letra C [ceh] (letter C). This one is tricky because it has two sounds: [k] (hard sound) and [s] (soft sound). The best example to illustrate the difference is the word cicatriz (scar). In Spain, people pronounce the soft version of letter C as a [th]. So, they’ll say something like “thicatrith”.

There are words where letter C is accompanied by letter H. In those words, the resulting sound is [ch], like the [ch] sound in the English word ‘church’.

So far, you've learned la letra A, la letra B y la letra C. This is the key to abecedario. 

Now, let’s move on to la letra D [deh] (letter D). To pronounce this letter like a native, try to push your tongue forward.

After letter E comes la letra F [efe] (letter F). Its pronounciation doesn’t change much in comparison to that of letter F in English.

What comes next? You’re totally right, la letra G [geh] (letter G). Similar to letter C, la letra G has two sounds: [g] and [j]. So, you’ll find it in words like gato (cat), and gema (gem). Now, to make a [g] sound before the vowels I and E, we need to combine letters G, U, and either I or E. As a result, we get a smiling U (Ü), like in the words pingüino (penguin) or bilingüe (bilingual).

Let’s move on to la letra ache (letter H), which is the easiest of them all because it’s basically invisible. 👻 So, unlike English, where one says ‘history', in Spanish, people see letter H, but ignore it!

Then comes la letra I (letter I), which was explained above. Next, we’ve got la letra jota (letter J). This is the funniest letter because it’s the one we use to write the sound of laughter: ja,ja,ja. You’ll also find it in words like jamaica and jirafa (giraffe). The Spanish letter jota is like the H sound in English. So, to pronounce la letra jota think of ‘history’ or ‘hungry’.

Let’s move on to la letra K [kah] (letter K). Most of the words spelled with this letter come from other languages, like ‘kilo’ from Latin and ‘kiosko’ from Japanese. Spanish speakers don’t use it as much because they already have the same sound in letter C. Next, la letra ele (letter L). This one doesn’t change much, so the words ‘león’ and ‘lion’ not only refer to the same animal 🦁, but are pronounced almost the same way.

Now, there are words that are spelled with a double L, like llamar (to call) and llegar (to arrive). To pronounce this sound, think of putting an [i] in front of the word. You should know, however, that in Argentina and Uruguay, this sound is pronounced [sh], so they’ll say “shamar” and “shegar”. It's like they're shushing you all the time 🤫🙃.

Moving on to las letras eme y ene (letters M and N). They’re very similar to those in English, but after letter N comes a letter that exists only in the Spanish language: la letra eñe (letter Ñ). This letter is basically an N with a magic hat and you’ll find it in words like mañana (tomorrow), niña (girl), and muñeco (doll). Next, we’ve got the letter O, but you know that one already. Just remember not to round your lips!

The next one is fairly easy: la letra peh (letter P). To pronounce this letter like a native, put your hand in front of your mouth and try not to put air like you do in English.

Moving on to la letra kuh (letter Q). This letter should always be accompanied by the letter U. So, you'll find it in words like queso (cheese), queja (complaint), te quiero (I love you).

Next, la letra ere (letter R). This letter is somewhat hard because it has two sounds: the first sound resembles the R in ‘butter’. It’s called a flap and you’ll find it in words like pero (but) and parar (to stop). The second sound is called a trill, it’s basically a double R and you’ll find it in words like perro (dog) and ferrocarril (train). So, to do the soft version of the R, which is called ere, you should flap your tongue like you do in the word ‘butter’, but to do the harder version of R, which is called erre, you have to trill your tongue.

Okay, we’re almost done and you’ll be happy to know that the following letters are pronounced very similar to those in English. So, we’ve got la letra ese (letter s) and la letra teh (letter T). This one you won’t forget because it’s the first letter in the name of the most delicious food in the entire world: taco 🌮.

After la letra uh (letter U), comes another letter that has different names depending on where you are: ‘uh beh’, ‘beh chica’ (small B) or ‘beh corta’ (short B). The reason is that Spanish speakers pronounce letters B and V the same way. Therefore, when they spell out words, they make a distinction in the way they refer to the letter. So, you may refer to letter B as ‘beh larga’ (tall B) or ‘beh grande’ (big B) — because it’s taller than the other B.

Then, we’ve got la letra doble uh (double U), which appears only in words that come from other languages like Washington. Next, we’ve got la letra equis (letter X). This letter has three different pronunciations in Mexico: it may sound like a jota (J), it may sound like an ese (S) as in Xochimilco (a very nice town south of Mexico City), and it may sound like an X as in explicar (to explain).

Fun fact: in Mexico, people say equis to mean ‘whatever’. So, if someone says something they think might have offended you, but it actually didn’t, you may say, ¡Equis, no te preocupes! (Whatever, don’t worry!) 

Then, we’ve got la ih griega (literally, Greek I). This letter has two sounds: it may sound like la letra I or like a double L. So, you’ll hear it in soy (which means I am, where the sound resemble that of the letter I) and you’ll here it in soya (as in soy sauce, where the sound resembles that of the double L in llamar and llegar).

Last but not least, la letra ceta (letter Z). In most countries it’s pronounced like the soft version of letter C, but in Spain, this letter is pronounced [th]. So, you might hear that the word for ‘shoe' is pronounced as “sapato” or “thapato“.

Now that you know the names of the letters, why don't you try spelling out words or the names of Spanish-speaking countries, like España (Spain)? It's good practice! 😉

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