How do I pronounce Spanish to be understood?
The good thing about Spanish is that there are not many pronunciation rules, however, the existing ones can be challenging.
If you are completely new to Spanish the first step you should take is to learn Spanish sounds rather than learning the whole alphabet. At the end of the day oral communication is a handful of sounds that can be mixed into unlimited forms. Therefore, learning the alphabet only in terms of letters is ineffective if you want to achieve effective oral ability. The Spanish alphabet only differs from English with only the letter “ñ", which pronunciation is similar to the English “ny” like in “canyon” or the well known Spanish word “jalapeño”.
There is a big difference in the sounds of both languages so by knowing the sounds you will master what it is really important when speaking Spanish, which is to be understood and to understand locals when speaking. For instance, although the Spanish and English alphabet are almost exactly alike, the number of vowels hugely differ from English to Spanish, which can’t be found in the standard alphabet only in the international phonetic alphabet (IPA).
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Spanish language has several diphthongs but a lower number of vowel sounds. Spanish has 5 pure vowel sounds, in contrast with English which has 12 pure vowels. Hence that is why Spanish speakers that learn English find hard to adapt their speech to the spoken language. For them this huge English vowel sound variation is almost inaudible. In the other way around, English speakers usually change the length of vowels and transform pure vowels into diphthongs when speaking Spanish. Fortunately, you can learn Spanish vowels relatively easily if you take into account a few considerations.
It is useful to get used to the pronunciation of vowels and the syllabic rhythm of Spanish because that will avoid misunderstandings in your speech. Vowels are the most relevant sounds when speaking Spanish since every single word is divided into syllables which the core is always a vowel. Music can help you with this issue, by singing Spanish songs you will be practicing the rhythmic sound of Spanish. Having said that, let’s see now how to pronounce the 5 Spanish pure vowels (a, e, i, o and u):
How to pronounce Spanish Vowels
Consider as well that the Spanish "Y" is performed as both a consonant and as a vowel. As a vowel, "Y" is pronounced like the Spanish "I", in which case you need to say “ee".
Learn Spanish by focusing on what is important
In the beginning, when learning a new language many students get obsessed by the meanings of words. At this stage try to avoid that, use the dictionary but don't get obsessed by the meanings and practice speech even if you don’t fully understand all the words because practice is what really makes you progress and you won't have problems in knowing the meanings of the words afterwards.
Today, for you to be focused on the right pronunciation of vowels instead of the meaning of words you are going to practice how international words would be pronounced by Spanish native speakers. The following is a video made by VideoEle for you to practice Spanish pronunciation of vowels applied to words that you probably know already. Try to repeat them all and practice!
How was that? Were you surprised with the pronunciation?, let me know in the comments. Sometimes it’s quite funny to hear some foreign words pronounced by Spaniards!
After that, if you would like to continue practicing Spanish vowels you may do the same with other common words taken from your native language. For instance, if you are a fluent English speaker try to say familiar words like “computer, plane, paper, file, name...” in Spanish. You can also take words from your native language that have a vowel in each syllable and no more than two consonants and separate them in syllables to incorporate all the Spanish vowel sounds that you have seen and then try to pronounce them like in the following example:
At this level you need to know the sounds of the vowels and be able to execute them but it can also be useful to know how to spell, for instance your name. Thereby, I would recommend to get used to the Spanish alphabet and the way to pronounce each letter by practicing how to say each letter in a real word rather than trying to memorise them in an isolated manner, for example the letter “F” is called “eh-feh” as in Francisco.
Some letters have more than one sound so the pronunciation is different depending on the vowels next to them. That doesn’t happen very often and once you know the letters that have this “issue” you will be able to pronounce any word. For instance, the Spanish "C" and "G" have two sounds each whereas the Spanish "H" doesn't have any sound at all. However, take also into account that the Spanish “C” before the vowels “e” and “i” can also be pronounced as an /s/ in some parts of Spain and in South-America.
How to pronounce Spanish C
How to pronounce Spanish G
How to pronounce Spanish H
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I hope that you have enjoyed this post! Feel free to post a comment.
I'm a Spanish and English philologist specialised in teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language (ELE) as I love sharing my language, my culture and a particular vision of the world with people from around the globe, getting to know more about the world itself through them and languages.