Spanish Pronunciation - How to pronounce Spanish words
¡Hola! This article is all about how to improve your Spanish pronunciation and to help you learn the Spanish alphabet.
Are you ready to get started? Here we go!
Spanish is such an easy language to speak. It is phonetic, which means that as long as you memorize the sounds of each letter, you can read ANY word!
You can form almost every sound in Spanish using English sounds that you already know. Look at the Spanish alphabet below. See if you can pick out the letter that does NOT occur in the English alphabet.
a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z
Resources for further reading:
If you said Ñ, you’d be right! The Ñ sound is pronounced like an "N" followed by the sound "yeh."
You can find a list providing the pronunciation of each letter of the alphabet individually at the end of this lesson. This can be handy to practice with in case you ever need to spell out your name!
For now, let's move on to talking about some very important letters: the ones that sound the most different from English.
Letters With Different Sounds
The following letters are ones you should keep an eye out for as you're starting to learn Spanish because they won't necessarily sound the way you expect them to!
B and V
In Spanish, the letters B and V sound more similar than they do in English: the Spanish V is pronounced similarly to B.
This can make it difficult when you're trying to spell a word that you've only ever heard spoken and have never seen in writing, like abogado "lawyer" or vago "vague / lazy."
Try these sounds out now:
Practice Your Pronunciation With Rocket Record
Rocket Record lets you perfect your Spanish pronunciation. Just listen to the native speaker audio and then use the microphone icon to record yourself. Once you’re done, you’ll get a score out of 100 on your pronunciation and can listen to your own audio playback. (Use a headset mic for best results.) Problems? Click here!
vague / lazy
If you ask someone to spell a word in Spanish out for you, that person may differentiate between B and V by talking about be grande "big B" (i.e., the letter B) and ve pequeña or ve chica "little V" (i.e., the letter V).
G, H and J
You may also have difficulties figuring out how to pronounce the letters G, H and J. This is because they generally sound quite different from their English counterparts.
In Spanish, the letter J sounds nothing like the letter "J" in English. In fact, it sounds more like the English "H," as in "hey."
The letter G, on the other hand, can at times sound very similar to a hard English "G," as in "great." When it comes before an E or an I, though, like in the word gente "people," it actually sounds just like a Spanish J.
You can try out both of these G sounds in this word:
giant / gigantic
And what about the Spanish H, you might ask? Well, it's actually silent! That's why you didn't hear it at all in the word hola "hello":
You may also come across this structure: ll. Its name is doble ele "double L"; at one point it was part of the alphabet and known as elle. Its pronunciation varies by region. It usually sounds like the English "Y," as in "young" or "yes"; however, you may also hear it being pronounced as a sound similar to the English "J," as in "jump" or "junk." This is known as yeísmo, and it happens to the letter Y too.
Ultimately, you can choose to use whichever sound you prefer, or whichever sound is used most in the region you are going to.
The first word below shows the "Y"-like pronunciation of ll, and the second shows the "J"-like pronunciation. The voice recognition in our course will work with either one.
The letter R in Spanish is another different one, and it has two possible sounds: the strong R and the soft R.
The strong R is used in a few different situations:
- when there are two Rs in a row;
- when there is an R at the start of a word;
- when there is an R after the letters L, N or S; and
- when there is an R after the prefix sub-.
That seems like a lot to remember! But you can start out by focusing just on the first two instances in this list - those are the most important.
This strong R is a rolling R - you make it by vibrating the tip of your tongue against the top of your mouth. It can take a bit of practice to master - trying to purr like a cat helps! - but once you've got it, you've got it for life.
Try it out on these words:
The soft R, on the other hand, is a flap sound, a lot like the "tt" in "butter" in most North American accents. You can think of it as a strong R that hasn't started rolling yet. This is the sound made by single Rs that don't fall into any of the categories that we've talked about above.
If you're having trouble making your rolling R sound, you might want to practice by saying a soft R first - this will put your tongue in the right spot in your mouth. Once you've done that, you've just got to work on that vibrating motion on the tip of your tongue. Imagining that your tongue is a flag rippling in a strong breeze might help.
Don't be discouraged if you can't get your Spanish Rs down right away! The more Spanish you hear and the more you practice, the better you will become.
Now that we've been through the hardest letters, it's time to see if you can pronounce the following words:
up to / including
You may be wondering why there isn't an example for the letter W above. This is because this letter is actually only used in words or place names of foreign origin, like Washington.
Accent marks have two purposes: to indicate which syllable should be stressed, and to distinguish between two words that look the same but have different meanings.
For example, the following two words are pronounced in the same way but have different meanings, so an accent mark is used in the second example to differentiate between the two:
That's enough pronunciation practice for now. Remember, the more you listen and practice saying things out loud, the better your understanding and pronunciation will become!
Below you can find the full alphabet, complete with audio for each individual letter so that you can get each sound down.
And after that, there's your very first Culture lesson and Rocket Reinforcement activities--so don't forget to scroll to the very bottom!
Full Alphabet in Spanish
Sounds like "ah"
Sounds like "beh"
Sounds like "seh"
Sounds like "deh"
Sounds like "eh"
Sounds like "ef-eh"
Sounds like "heh"
Sounds like "ah-che"
Sounds like "ee"
Sounds like "hotah"
Sounds like "kah"
Sounds like "el-eh"
Sounds like "em-eh"
Sounds like "en-eh"
Sounds like "en-yeh"
Sounds like "oh"
Sounds like "peh"
Sounds like "coo"
Sounds like "eh-reh"
Sounds like "es-eh" - almost like ‘S’-ay
Sounds like "teh"
Sounds like "oo"
Sounds like "veh"
Sounds like "doh-bleh-veh"
Sounds like "eh-keys"
Sounds like "jeh"
Sounds like "seh-tah"
- The Spanish alphabet has one extra letter that the English one doesn't have: Ñ.
- The letters B and V sound similar.
- The letters G and J can sound like an English "H," and the Spanish H is silent.
- The letter combination LL can sound like an English "Y" or "J."
- Spanish has a strong R and a soft R.
- Accents are used to indicate stress and/or to distinguish between words that otherwise look alike.
Good work! Now you can move on and have a read of the first Culture lesson, where we talk about Spanish throughout the world.
Culture: Spanish - More Popular Than You Might Think
How many people do you think speak Spanish worldwide? Try to guess... In Mexico alone there are over 120 million Spanish speakers. Meanwhile, in the United States, around 40 million people are native Spanish speakers, with an extra 10 million claiming it as a second language. Taken together, some people have claimed that the USA has, surprisingly, more Spanish speakers than Spain itself.
While you’re doing the math, you have to consider most of Central and South America, Equatorial Guinea, Western Sahara, the Philippines, and expats all over the world...and you will get something like 430 million speakers. This makes Spanish the second or third most spoken language in the world. It's definitely spoken by less people than Mandarin Chinese, but whether there are more English or Spanish speakers depends on the rules you use to count. If you count only native speakers, there are more Spanish speakers. If you count fluent native and non-native speakers, then English has the numerical advantage.
If you weren't already feeling good enough about learning Spanish, you should know that Spanish is the official language of 21 countries, plus four "de facto" nations that don't have an official language. It has also become the second business language in the European Union, and you can find Spanish-speaking communities on each of the world's seven continents. Even Antarctica can be said to have a Spanish-speaking population, as both Chile and Argentina maintain settlements in the Antarctic territories they claim.
Armed with that knowledge, there's definitely no excuse for not exercising your spoken Spanish!
Make It Stick With Rocket Reinforcement
Reinforce your learning from this lesson with the Rocket Reinforcement activities and earn points for your badges along the way!