Spanish Pronunciation Guide
is a nearly perfectly phonetic language, i.e., each letter is always
pronounced exactly the same. This
makes it a very easy language to learn to pronounce properly, if you
learn the rules. Here is a
guide to help you. This guide
to Mexican Spanish pronunciation is based on common western U.S. (west
of Ohio) and western Canadian English pronunciation:
e like the ay in bay
i as in machine
o as in cold
like the oo in food
as in boy (see also, v)
c before e or i, the same as s, otherwise, like the c in care
as in church, although the initial "t" sound is more
as in dog when an initial letter of a word or syllable or after n
f as in fair, never soft, as in effusive
before e or i, like the h in hair, otherwise like the g in
like the h in hair
like the c in care
l like the l in like
like the heavily stressed y in YES!, as when your team scores.
Often, in México, it's pronounced
as in man
as in name
as in pan
always followed by ue or ui, the u is silent
lightly trilled at the start of a word or syllable; otherwise
like the soft d in medicine in casual
strongly trilled, no real English equivalent
as in sun
as in top
the same as b
as in wander
as in exit except in words borrowed from the various Mexican
before a vowel, see ll, otherwise the same as i
z like the s in sun
The following are the common Spanish diphthongs, really pseudo-diphthongs, as both letters are pronounced, one slightly weaker than the other (usually the i or the u). The two letters are pronounced so close together (almost slurred) that it is very hard for an English speaker to hear them as separate. When first learning Spanish words, you should make the effort to pronounce both letters, even though that is not truly correct, otherwise some bad mispronunciations could cause you to be misunderstood.
ai like ah-ee
au like ah-oo
ei like ay-ee
ia like ee-ah
ie like ee-ay
like oh-ee except
for English loan words such as boiler where it is pronounced like the oy
like oh-ah, sometimes slurred as
like oo-ah, but commonly slurred as
or üe like oo-ay
after g or q the u
is silent, not a pseudo-diphthong
or üi like oo-ay
after g or q the u
is silent, not a pseudo-diphthong
the vowel combination has an accent mark over either letter, this
"splits" the combination and they are pronounced totally
in México the common suffix -ria that should almost always have the
accent mark, -ría, but rarely has it, so be careful.
It's pronounced RREE
ah, most of the time.
= seis = say-ees
The stress in most words depends on the last letter of the word: If it's
a vowel (a e i o u) or n or s, the stress is on the next-to-last
syllable, e.g., tácos, señóra (accent marks for this guide only),
otherwise it's on the last syllable, e.g., señór, nacionál, comér (accent
marks for this guide only). Only
words that don't follow these rules are written with an accent mark to
let you know which is the stressed syllable.
Note: In México, when a word is written in all capital letters,
the accent marks are NOT used, so it's easy to make pronunciation
errors. Be aware.
Note: Some written single syllable words have an accent mark that
has nothing to do with pronunciation, they are only there to
differentiate the word from one with the identical spelling but a
different meaning, e.g., sí = yes, si -=if.
Sometimes the accent mark is used to "split" a vowel
combination (so it's not a pseudo-diphthong) such as ía or úo, which
puts the stress on the syllable ending with the accented letter.
last notes for perfectionists:
consonants, particularly p and t, are pronounced in English with a plosive,
i.e., a sort of puff of air that lays a little extra stress on the
pronunciation, while nearly identical with the English, never does this.
Spanish is often not enunciated as separate words, but until you are
very fluent, continue to enunciate the separate words, as you would in
English. This merely sounds
somewhat theatrical to those listening, it won't be misunderstood.
of the reasons English speakers hear Spanish as "very fast" is
that spoken Spanish gives only approximately 1/2 the time to a vowel
that spoken English does. Spanish
speakers will hear the person learning Spanish pronounce words as if
they are heavily "drawled".
English speakers will hear the native Spanish speaker sound as if
he is "clipping" his vowels.
You will be understood by the native Spanish speaker, but it may
be difficult for you to understand the native Spanish speaker.
Good examples are the words yes and no = sí and no.
You and I, English speakers, will usually say these as the
English words see (sseee) and no (nnooo), the Spanish speaker will say
them as see (se) and no (no), exactly
the same sound, but so "clipped" and so abrupt that it sounds
rude to an English speaker.
using the transliterated phonetic versions of the Spanish words, you
need to practice saying them until you can say them all run-together,
otherwise your pronunciation will be considered a little
"odd", not necessarily wrong, but definitely odd.
soft Spanish d. This is
tough. It's really not
pronounced like the soft d in medicine, as that will be misunderstood by
Spanish speakers as a soft r. It's
actually sort of a cross between a soft English d and a th.
Probably the best example is a deliberately lisped s (in a
comical manner). This is
not the famous Spanish lisp, but an English s, deliberately lisped for
comical reasons as in thithy (sissy).
The word for pig = cerdo, is pronounced SAYR thoh with this sort
of not-quite-th sound.
ue and ui after g and q are not pseudo-diphthongs, as the u is totally
silent. In the case of the
g it is used to indicate that a g before e or i is pronounced as a hard
g instead of the normal h. The
üe and the üi after g are normal pseudo-diphthongs.
They just have the dieresis (those two little dots) so you will
know that they are not silent. I
haven't discovered why the u is after the q in the que and qui sounds.
Probably some lost historical reason.
soft Spanish r. This is
real tough. The word for
newspaper = periodico, will be heard by most English speakers as
pediodico. But the English
word medicine, when spoken casually (the tip of the tongue lazily
resting against lower teeth) by a central/western U.S. English speaker,
will be heard by most Spanish speakers as mericine, so the best way to
describe the pronunciation is like the soft d in medicine, in my