Consonants that pose problems for English speakers include:
- b and v
1. The letters b and v
In English, the letters b and v are clearly differentiated. They’re not so clear in Spanish. Ask a native Spanish speaker to say the English word very and he may well end up saying berry.
The vibrating v sound doesn’t exist in Spanish. Instead, v is pronounced in a much softer way. Listen to the following words that start with v and repeat each of them.
When the v sound comes in the middle of a word, it becomes less distinguishable from b. Try these words aloud.
Spanish speakers themselves often have a hard time distinguishing the two sounds and may write b as v and vice versa. One way they distinguish the two is to talk about b grande (big b) and v pequeño (little v). You may also hear the pronunciations beh for "b" and uve (oo-veh) for "v".
2. The letter ñ
The ñ sound is pronounced a little bit like an n with a hum. Think of it as an “ny” sound, like “canyon.” Practice with these words.
3. The letter rr
The double-R sound can be incredibly difficult for English speakers. Yet it is a very important sound in the Spanish language, because some words can completely change their meaning depending on whether or not the r sound is trilled (caro—expensive versus carro—car, pero—but versus perro—dog).
To pronounce the double-R sound properly, you need to learn to trill your r’s. Try making a purring sound like a cat. Feel your tongue vibrate. Practice rolling your r’s with the following words.
Now, practice the difference between a rolled and unrolled r with the following words.
4. The letter ll
The double-L sound in Spanish is pronounced in a variety of ways across the Spanish-speaking world. In many parts of South America, it is pronounced like a j. In much of Spain, it’s pronounced like a y. In still other regions, it is pronounced just like a regular l.
Practice a South American pronunciation of ll with the following words.