Spanish is straightforward in that nearly all letters are pronounced—only the “h” is silent, and the vowels (a-e-i-o-u) have only one pronunciation each; for example, there’s no “long a” and “short a” like there is in English. This makes it easier for the leaner of Spanish to see a word and know how it’s pronounced, and to hear a word and guess accurately at its spelling. The way some Spanish speaking countries refer to several of the letters varies slightly (namely, with b, v, w and y), but generally these differences do not cause confusion. The most recent dictionaries do not list “ll” (elle) and “rr” (erre) as separate letters of the alphabet, but many native speakers of Spanish still consider these as part of “el alfabeto” and they are included as letters in the chart below. Words that begin with “k” and “w” are usually words that are borrowed from other languages.
|b||be (be grande)|
|v||ve (ve chica, uve)|
|w||doble ve (doble uve)|
|y||i griega (ye)|
The vowels in Spanish
In Spanish, there is only one sound associated with each vowel, so it’s important to avoid letting other vowel pronunciation systems interfere when you speak Spanish. In English, for example, the vowel “a” can vary greatly—say out loud the following: “cat, rate, father” and you’re likely to notice three distinct ways “a” is pronounced. This variation in pronunciation for the same vowel doesn’t occur in Spanish—“a” is always pronounced the same way. Also, Spanish vowels are short (a-) in their pronunciation, and not elongated (as when the doc says “stick out your tongue and say aaaah”).
How Spanish vowels sound
|Vowel||How it sounds in English|
|a||as the “a” in father|
|e||as the “ay” in say (but not lengthened)|
|i||as the “e” in me|
|o||as the “oa” in oak|
|u||as the “ue” in Sue|
- The “ñ” is pronounced as the “ny” is in the word “canyon”, or the “ni” in “onion”. Many beginner learners of Spanish already know the word “tomorrow”: mañana. Other common words with ñ: año (year), niño (boy), piña (pineapple).
- The letter “h” is always silent in Spanish, so don’t attach an English “h” sound to any of these common words: hola, Héctor, hay (there is), hermano (brother). Pronounce these as if “h” didn’t exist: (-ola, -éctor, -ay, -ermano).
- The letter “j” sounds more like an English “h”, as in the boy’s name Javier. The same English “h” sound is heard in these words: jabón (soap), junio (June) and Jenry.
- The letter “x” is frequently pronounced as English “h” as well: México, Xavier, but “x” can also sound like English “x”; for example, in the word “conexión”.
- In many parts of Spain, the letters “z” and “c” (when “c” precedes the vowels “e” and “i”) are pronounced as the unvoiced “th” sound in the English word “thin”. So in Spain, “gracias” is pronounced “grathias” and “cinco” is “thinco”; and “lápiz” is pronounced “lápith”. In all other dialects of Spanish, the letters “z” and “c” in these examples are pronounced as a clean “s” sound as in the word “snake”.
- The “erre” consonant (rr) is no longer considered a separate letter in Spanish, but it traditionally is contrasted with “ere” (r). Second language learners should try to roll or trill “rr” in words such as “perro / carro”, but the “r” of “pero / caro” is not rolled.
Special mention of “c” and “g”
Los consonantes C y G
|Cons.||Vowel||Exam:||C sounds like…||Cons.||Vowel||Exam:||G sounds like…|
|c||a||casa||k as in king||g||a||gato||g as in good|
|c||o||coco||k as in king||g||o||gota||g as in good|
|c||u||cuna||k as in king||g||u||gusano||g as in good|
|c||e||cero||s as in sand||g||e||general||h as in ham|
|c||i||cine||s as in sand||g||i||gimnacio||h as in ham|
The conventions for capitalization in Spanish differ from those in English. In Spanish, it is not necessary to capitalize:
- The first-person singular pronoun “yo”: María y yo (María and I)
- days of the week: lunes, martes, miércoles, etc.
- months of the year: enero, febrero, marzo, etc.
- languages and nationalities: francés, japonés, español
- religions: cristiano, musulmán
Only the first word of a book or title is capitalized: “Cien años de soledad.”