I know that words like otorrinolaringología seem to be a very challenging tongue twister (between you and me, that particular word is also challenging for native Spanish speakers), but ¡no te preocupes! (don’t be frightened). Keep calm and pay attention to the following details, which will help you master the pronunciation of the Spanish language.
Good news: Spanish is a phonetic language!
First of all, buenas noticias (good news): Spanish is a phonetic language, which means that words are spelled as they are pronounced and are pronounced as they are spelled.
Does that make sense? Maybe not so much, so let’s go over an example in English, which is NOT a phonetic language.
Take the English word “read”. It may be pronounced [ri:d] or [red]. The difference in pronunciation results in different meanings, right? When Spanish speakers learning English come across words like “read”, they usually pronounce each vowel individually, as in [r-eh-ah-d]. They do that because, as a phonetic language, that’s how Spanish works and that’s something you should use to your advantage!
Spanish has 32 sounds
There are a total of 32 sounds in Spanish: 27 consonant sounds (such as d, f, and p) and 5 vowel sounds (such as a, e, i). It might seem like a lot, but you’’ll be happy to know that, since Spanish and English have a common ancestor, you already know 18 consonant sounds and 2 vowel sounds.
See? Es más sencillo de lo que parece (It’s easier than you might’ve thought!) By the way, since vowels and consonants are the building blocks of pronunciation, you should definitely check out my video about el abecedario.
In the meantime, let’s go over the tips and tricks I promised!
Some letters in Spanish share the same sound!
There are a lot of letters in Spanish that share the same sound. Which, you might ask? Well, you’ll be surprised. First, we’ve got la letra beh y la letra uh beh (letters B and V). I have a whole video about these two friends. So, feel free to check it out to know more about them.
Similarly, letters C, S, and Z sound like the English letter S in most cases, but when letter C appears in front of vowels A, O, and U, it sounds like letter K in English, and when it is followed by vowels E and I, it will always sound like letter S.
Now, you should know that Spain treats letters C and Z a bit differently. Al otro lado del charco (across the pond), people say “thapato” and “therca”. What can I say? Spanish is incredibly rich and varied!
Another set of letters that shares the same sound consists of las letras ih griega y la doble eh leh (letters Y and double L). Take the words yate (yacht), inyección (injection), llamada (call), lluvia (rain).
Let’s take it a step further and look at these words in a sentence:
- Recibí una llamada en mi yate (I got a call in my yacht.) — I wish!
Basically, if you memorize these sounds, you’re all set. But if you got to Argentina or Uruguay, you’ll notice that they say “Recibí una shamada en mi shate”.
Argentinians might also say “Se está cashendo el cielo con esta shuvia”, which means “it’s raining cats and dogs”.
Letters G and J also share a sound, but that happens only when letter G appears in front of vowels E and I, like in the words jirafa (giraffe), jamón (ham), gemelo (twin), gigante (giant or huge).
Words in context: La jirafa es gigante (This giraffe is huge).
So, always think of the word “history” to pronounce la letra jota (letter J) and la letra geh (letter G).
Now, letter G in Spanish will always sound like that in the word “goose” when in front of vowels A, O, and U, but its sound will resemble that of letter H in English when followed by vowels E and I.
Lastly, letters C, K, and Q comprise the last set of words that share the same sound. La letra kah (letter K) is very rare and that’s because letters C and Q sort of replace it.
You’ll see letter K in words like kilómetro (kilometer) and you’ll listen to that same sound in sentences like:
- ¿Dónde queda tu casa? (Where’s your house?)
- Queda a un kilómetro de aquí. (It’s one kilometer away from here).
If you have any doubts about the pronunciation of these sets of words, leave a comment below.
Sounds unique to the Spanish language
Now, let's go over three sounds that are unique to the Spanish language.
- Letter H
A common mistake made by English speakers is that they pronounce this letter because that’s what you should do in words like “house” and “helmet”. Pero en español, la letra ah che es muda (Letter H is silent in Spanish).
So, you should never say its name. It’s like you-know-who in that particular storyline about a boy whose name starts with an H. ¡Exacto! (You got it!) Letter H is Lord Voldemort in Spanish.
For example: Hola, hijo. ¿Cómo estás hoy? (Hi, son! How are you today?)
- Double R (RR)
Another sound that is unique to Spanish and that usually makes non-native speakers struggle is the double R. So, to pronounce words like ferrocarril, carrera, tierra, perro, barril, simply think of trilling the R sound.
- Letter Ñ
And last but not least, la letra Ñ. This letter exists only in the Spanish language. Think of it as an N with a magic hat that changes its pronunciation. To pronounce it, think of the words “onion” and “canyon”.
Now, try reading these senteces out loud:
- Esta mañana vi una araña. (I saw a spider this morning.)
- En el otoño iré a la cabaña. (I’ll go to the cabin in autumn.)
A bit of practice
Time to put this into practice and actually learn some phrases in Spanish:
- Quisiera bailar salsa. (I wish I could dance salsa.) —Remember that letter Q sounds like letter K.
- Me gusta la historia. (I like the story or I like history, as a subject.) —Remember that letter H is silent in Spanish.
- Ya llegó por quien lloraban. (Literally, the person you were crying for has just arrived) —It’s a saying we use to announce someone’s arrival in a funny or dramatic way, depending on context.
- Compremos piña para la niña. (Literally, let’s get some pineapple for the girl) —We’re not talking about a specific girl, we just enjoy making rhymes.
FREE Spanish Training
¡Muy bien! Now you know the secrets that will allow you to master the sounds of Spanish just like native speakers do!
In addition to practicing what you’ve learned today about Spanish pronunciation, you might want to check out my videos about the building blocks of pronunciation: the vowels and the alphabet. Additionally, feel free to check out the other Spanish beginner videos prepared by the other Spring Spanish teachers. You’ll find them all on our channel!
As you know, being able to pronounce Spanish words doesn’t mean you can actually have a conversation just yet. If you’d like to acquire or improve your speaking skills in Spanish, you certainly shouldn’t miss our free training on our website. With this training, you’ll discover the method we use in our Spring Spanish academy to teach students to speak fluent Spanish.