So you know the special section at the end of foreign language dictionaries with the pronunciation guide? One huge lesson that I learned in Chile is that those parts of dictionaries lie. Horribly. So I wrote up my own personal Spanish pronunciation guide that helped me get the pronunciation down.
Spanish Pronunciation: why do I care?
It’s easy to get along doing the bare minimum, speaking Spanish, but doing so with English pronunciation. Unfortunately, if you’re hoping to be taken seriously by anyone who is a native Spanish speaker – which is a large part of the American continent – that’s not going to fly. The following guide, snark, random references, and all, is taken almost directly from my personal study of Spanish pronunciation.
How to pronounce the vowels (and not sound like the gringo you are)
- a – spoken as in father and ah
- e – eh? and aim (without the i sound)
- i – eat, evil! (like Mermaidman says it!)
- o – oh, zero
- u – ooh, rude
- y – see ‘i’
The consonants: make yourself understood
- b – normally pronounced just as in English. However, when it’s between vowels, it’s like the English ‘v’ except that instead of using of using one lip, both are used. The pronunciation rules for b and v are the same.
- c – before a,o, and u, it’s a hard sound like English ‘k’, and before ‘e’ and ‘i’ it’s soft, like in cent.
- d – in English, you normally place your tongue on the ridge behind your your upper teeth to make this sound, without touching the teeth. For Spanish, place the tip of your tongue to the back of your teeth to make the first sound d makes in Spanish. When d is between vowels or at the end of a word, pronounce it like the th in thy.
- f – Same as in English
- g – normal pronunciation before a, o, and u, a hard pronunciation as in God. Before e and i, soft, just like the Spanish j.
- h – makes no sound in Spanish.
- j – You know how your Spanish teacher told you it’s pronounced like h in English? Well that’s a lie. It’s not. Put your tongue in the position to make a g or k sound in English. Now breathe out and let air escape between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. That rasping sound you hear is the Spanish j.
- k – almost never used in Spanish unless borrowed from another word like kilogramo or kilometro.
- l – Similar to English. Instead of touching the front part of the tongue to the roof of your mouth, touch just the tip of your tongue.
- ll – unless you’re in Argentina, this is just like the English y.
- m – as in English
- n – as in English
- p – as in English, but less forced. Put your hand a few inches from your mouth and feel how the air hits it. Spanish has a softer p sound.
- q – almost always paired with a u, the qu pair is pronounced as an English k.
- r – NOT LIKE ENGLISH! The tongue taps the place where an English speaker makes the t or d sound.
- rr – This sound doesn’t exist in English, which is probably why it’s so hard to pronounce. I honestly thought I would never be able to pronounce it, but with patience and time I now can. Trill the regular r, imitating a car engine or machine gun.
- s – same as in English.
- t – not like English. See first pronunciation of d for tongue placement.
- v – see rules for b.
- w – this really doesn’t exist in English, except in slang. Used just as in English.
- x – just like in English, but pay attention. Some words spelled with s pronounce it as an s. In Mexico, it’s often pronounced as a j. I haven’t found a hard-cut rule on pronunciation.
- y – typically, just like i in Spanish. In some placements it’s like the English j – conyuge, Yarenya
- z – pronounced as a soft c.