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Spanish Pronunciation Basics

written by: Sonal Panse • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

If you are trying to learn to speak Spanish, it is helpful for you to know how each letter of the alphabet is pronounced. Learn the phonetic pronunciation of both consonants and vowels.

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    Spanish pronunciation varies in different Spanish-speaking communities. People in Madrid, for instance, have a different way of pronouncing things than people in the Basque and the Catalan regions. Venezuelans, Argentinians, Cubans and Mexicans have their own particular quirks. They will understand one another, of course, much as English speakers from around the globe do, but the differences are there. So you can take a bird-watching trip to Gua-temala or Wa-temala, but, no worries, you will still end up in Guatemala.

    Beginners in Spanish should follow the general rules of Spanish pronunciation and, once the basics are grasped, then, well, do as the Romans do in Rome.

    Here are a few things to know:

    • Spanish is more phonetic than English.
    • Spanish consonants are pronounced more or less like the English ones.
    • Spanish vowels are pronounced more distinctly than the English ones.
    • Vowels between letters can sound different depending on the letters before and after.

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    Let's Look at the Spanish Vowels

    • A - Like the “a” in far or the “o” in orange.
    • E – Like the “e” in set or the “eh” in nether.
    • I – Like the “ee” in meet or the “e” in me.
    • O – Like the “o” in coat or the “o” in cone.
    • U – Like the “oo” in soot or the “u” in beauty.

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    Spanish Consonants

    • B - Like the “b” in “beat.” Between vowels, like “v.”
    • C – Like the “c” in cinema or the “th” in thistle, if before an “e” or an “i.” Like the “c” in carbon elsewhere.
    • CH - Like the “ch” in chuff.
    • D - Like the “d” in Diana and softer between vowels.
    • F - Like the “f” in fortitude.
    • G – Like the English “g”, but softer, almost like an “h” between vowels, like the Spanish “j” before “i “or “e”, and silent if followed by “n”.
    • H – Is always silent, even when between vowels.
    • J – Like the “ch” in the Scottish word “loch” or the “h” in house.
    • K – Like the English “k” but softer.
    • L – Like the “l” in litter.
    • LL – Like the “y” in Yemen, the “ll” in trillion and the “zh” in azalea.
    • M – Like the “m” in mug.
    • N – Like the “n” in Nike. More like “m” if followed by “a,” "b,” “v,” “f” or “p.” Silent if followed by “m” or another word beginning with “m.”
    • Ñ - Like the “ny” in banyan.
    • P – Is silent if at the start of a word, especially words of Greek origins.
    • Q – Like the English “k.” If there is a following “u,” the “u” is not pronounced.
    • R – Like the English “r.”
    • RR – Like the English “r” with more trill. The “rr” sound is used if word begins with “r” or if the “r” comes after “l,” “n” and “s.”
    • S – Like the “s” in sing, but softer.
    • T – Like the “t” in star.
    • V - Like in “b” in “beet.” Between vowels, like “v.”
    • W – Like the “w” in war.
    • X – Like the English “x” between vowels. Like the English “s” if before another consonant or in words beginning with “x” – but depending on regional fancy, may also be pronounced as the English “s” or “sh” or the Spanish “k.”

    • Y – Like the English “y.”
    • Z – Like the “s” in sing or the “th” in think.
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    Developing the Right Pronunciation Skills

    Gua-temala and Wa-temala aside, pronouncing a word wrong could change its meaning and land you in the gazpacho. To get your Spanish pronunciation right, speak aloud at a normal conversational pace as you learn. Even if you don't sound like the native speakers, you will sound close enough for them to understand you.