Teaching the Pronunciation of Spanish Consonants, with Examples

As you may have seen in the lesson about the alphabet or about vowels, students come to Spanish with a lot of naïve ideas about how to pronounce the letters – and the language in general. The first lesson about pronunciation should be the one about the alphabet, followed by the vowels and finally by this lesson regarding the pronunciation of consonants.

Getting Started

First, inform students that consonant is a compound word formed from con (with) + sonant (literally sounding, or producing sound). With the exception of L and R, which are called liquid consonants, consonants cannot be pronounced without a vowel either before or after them. Knowing the names of the consonants, as when they learned the alphabet, is not quite enough for knowing how to pronounce them in a real life context.

Just as they have practiced the pronunciation of vowels by using sentences where a high concentration of one vowel was used, we can learn the pronunciation of consonants in the same way.

Dictation Exercises

Teachers may use these sentences in any order they desire, of course. They also make good dictation exercises. In general, consonants soften when surrounded by vowels.

1. hard B & V: Beto bromea con Berta.

2. soft B & V: Abel Avila vive en Avicena.

3. hard C: [like K, but less aspirated] Los caníbales del Caribe comían carne humana.

4. soft C [like s in Latin America, like the unvoiced th in thin, in Castillian Spanish]:

5. hard D [like dog in English] ¿Dónde está Daniel?

6. soft D: [like the voiced th in though] Adela no da dinero a Daniel.

7. F: [as in English] Alfredo firma el formulario.

8. hard G: [as in gone] Gómez es quien gana el galardón.

9. soft G: [pronounced as in the ch of Bach] Jorge gana este galardón.

10. H: [silent, except in the name Héctor, where it is slightly heard] Héctor hereda ahora.

11. J: [pronounced as in the ch of Bach] Jorge juega al ajedrez.

12. K: [as in kilo, foreign words only] Konrad compró un kilo de caramelos.

13. L: [with the tongue more broad and flat than in English] La luna es de plata.

14. LL: [as Y, except in the Cono del Sur, where it is like the z in azure] Yáñez me llama.

15. M: [as in English] María me admira mucho.

16. N: [as in English; changes to M sound before bilabials and occlusives] La nena no nada nada.

17. P: [as in English, but less aspirated] Pepe no propone pagar pronto.

18. Q: [always followed by U, pronounced as K, less aspirated] ¿Lo que quién quiere?

19. R: [single R between vowels, as in tt in palmetto] Mi amor es de Rorotanga.

20. RR: [when double, or initial R of sentence, or following most consonants] Las ruedas rojas corren rápidamente.

21. S: [as in English, but “apical” in Castillian Spanish-close to an sh] Sí, me gusta la sinfonía.

22. T: [as in English, but less aspirated] Tomás toma tequila con Teresa.

23. W: [as in English, but sometimes like a V, foreign words only] Vásinton fue presidente.

24. X: [when between vowels, as J –above-; before consonants, as ks or gs as in eggs] México es bueno excepto en julio.

25. Y: [as in English, except in Cono del Sur, where it is like z in azure]. Yani come yogúr.

26. Z: [like s in English or, in Castillian Spanish, unvoiced th as in thin] Los zapatos son de Zoro.

As was recommended for teaching vowels, these sentences should be used for daily practice, one per class, at the beginning of class. That is, teachers should begin with #1 above on the seventh day of class.

Note the observation about C (K), P and T: they should not be aspirated. I tell students to hold the back of their hand three inches or so in front of their mouth, then repeat Carlos, Pedro and Tomás. If they feel their breath, they are saying them too harshly

Never write them, or the letter in question, on the board. If students see either written down, their English pronunciation will interfere with their listening and pronunciation.