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Before You Learn Spanish Words, You Need to Know the Sounds

A super-duper cool thing about Spanish is that it is a phonetic language and the vowels only have one sound.  In English, there are long and short vowel sounds which is not the case in Spanish.  In other words, once you know the sounds of the vowel and consonant letters, it’s pretty easy to pronounce words; even if you’ve never seen them before.

Vowel Letters: Here are the vowel letters followed by how to pronounce them and an English word that uses the same sound.

a – makes the “ah sound” as in the English Word “ah.”  (And you thought this would be hard.)

e – makes the “eh sound” as in the English word “egg.”

i – makes the “ee” sound as in the English word “see.”

o – makes the “oh” sound as in the English word “oh.” (This is so easy!)

u – makes the “oo” sound as in the English word “boo!” (Like what you say when you are trying to scare someone.  Don’t draw the “oo” sound out. It’s boo, not boooo. Keep it short and snappy.)

The way I remember how the vowel letters sound is by reciting a goofy little rhyme I made up:

ah, eh, ee, oh, oo,

baby bunny,

I love you!”

Yes, it’s goofy but take the time to say it again and again until you have it memorized.  You don’t have to say it out loud, you can just recite it in your head.  But, if you really want to learn this stuff, be fearless.  Say the vowel-bunny rhyme out loud with pride!

To further help you, here is a video from Jump-Start Your Spanish for you to watch that covers the Spanish vowel letters and how they sound:

 

Consonant Letters: Most of the consonant letters are the same in Spanish as they are in English. Here are the exceptions:

Note:  The letter “c” is actually pronounced the same in English and Spanish but it’s important that I separate it from the other consonant letters so you can remember how to correctly say it depending on which vowel letter it precedes.

c – Sounds like an “s” before the letters “e” or “i.” This is the same as in English; for example, cent and cinnamon.

Sounds like a “k” before the letters “a”, “o”, and “u.” This is the same as in English; for example, cap, corn, and cup.

d – Sounds like “d” except when it falls between two vowel letters in which case it makes a really soft “th” sound.

g – Sounds like an “h” before the letters “e” or “i.”

Sounds like a hard “g” before “a”, “o”, and “u.” Like in the English word “go.”

h – The letter “h” is always silent in Spanish.

j – Sounds like an “h” as in the English word “help.”

ñ – When you see the letter “n” with that little squiggly thing on top of it, it makes the “nya” sound. It’s easy to make the sound, just say the word “lasagna” and you’ll hear it near the end.

r – When you pronounce a Spanish word with an “r”, your tongue should hit the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth.  Don’t worry about getting the sound right to begin with, it takes practice.

v – The letter “v” is pronounced like the letter “b.”

y – When part of a word, it sounds like the “y” in the word “yellow.”

When you see a “y” all by itself, it sounds like “ee” as in the English word “bee.”  When standing alone, “y” is a word and it means “and.”

z – Sounds like “s” as in the word sent.

Consonant Letter Combos

In Spanish, you’ll also find these letter combinations that produce their own unique sounds.  I know some of you will look at this and get nervous.  Don’t.  This is here because it’s going to serve as a reference for you as you practice more sounds and words.  If these combinations cause frustration, then just ignore them for now.  You can come back later after you’ve had lots of exposure to the simple one letter sounds.

cc – Makes the “x” sound as in the word axe.

ll – A double “l” sounds like “y” as in the English word “yes.”

que – Makes the “kay” sound.

qui – Sounds like the English word “key.”

gue – Makes the hard “g” sound (as in the word get) followed by the short “e” sound (as in the word get). We have this letter combination and sound in the English word “guess.” Say “guess”, but drop the “s” sound and you have it.

gui – Makes the hard “g” sound followed by the long “e” sound. Say the word geese without the “s” sound and you have it.

hu – Sounds like “w” before a vowel letter (a,e,i,o,u)

rr – You’ll say this just like two “r’s” placed next to each other using the rolling “r” sound. Don’t worry about making the sound correctly to begin with, it takes practice.

Do not freak out!  The consonant letters that are different in Spanish from English may seem scary at first and that’s ok.  The good news is it will become second nature with practice.

It’s a good idea to have a print out of this list so I’ve made one available for you here:

http://sillyspanish.com/letter-sounds