World’s Most Complete Spanish Pronunciation Guide [+Audio]
Good news! Spanish pronunciation is easy.
Linguists consider Spanish a phonetic language—meaning it’s usually pronounced the way it’s written.
The same letters and combinations of letters are always pronounced the same way. You won’t get surprises like “pear” and “spear.”
All you need to do is to get to know some rules and how to pronounce Spanish letters and letter combinations. Believe me, it won’t take you long and you’ll be able to read Spanish right after you finish this article.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents:
- The Spanish Alphabet
- Pronunciation of Spanish Vowels
- Pronunciation of Spanish Consonants
- Pronouncing Common Spanish Words
- How to Practice Spanish Pronunciation
- Practice Spanish Pronunciation in a Conversation
The Spanish Alphabet
The first step is to get to know the Spanish alphabet.
The Spanish alphabet has 27 letters, one more than the English one. Can you spot the extra letter?
Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Ññ Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz
Yes, you’re right! It’s Ññ. You’ll get to know this letter better later on.
Now let’s take a look at the names of the Spanish letters.
Spanish Letters – Names
Listen to the audio of the Spanish alphabet letter names:
Spanish Letters – Sounds
Although there are 27 letters, there are more sounds, as some letters in combinations can produce different sounds.
Here, I’ll just put the basic chart, with IPA pronunciation (International Phonetic Alphabet), and then I will explain letter by letter.
|Cc||/k/, /s/, /ʧ/|
|Gg||/g/, [γo], /x/|
|Rr||tap /ɾ/, trill /r/|
|Xx||/x/, /s/, /ks/|
As you can see most of the letters only have one pronunciation. Some of them have two or three, but always in the same letter combinations.
Let’s see all the letters and their pronunciation in detail now. I’ll present them in two groups: vowels and consonants.
Pronunciation of Spanish Vowels
You make the Spanish vowel sounds by letting your breath out of your mouth without closing your throat or touching top lip to bottom.
Say “aaaaa” and “ooo.”
Do you see?
Now, say “l.”
Did you notice that you constrict your throat with your tongue?
Try saying “p.”
In this case, your top lip compresses against your bottom lip.
Spanish vowels are completely free of compression or constriction.
5 Vowel Sounds
There are only five vowels and—as you can see in the sound chart above—they correspond to five sounds:
- / a /
- / e /
- / i /
- / o /
- / u /
The pronunciation is simple, just remember:
- The A sounds like the first “a” in “always”
- The E sounds like the long “a” in “angel”
- The I sounds like the long “e” in “be”
- The O sounds like the long “o” in “open”
- The U sounds like the long “u” in “flute”
In comparison, do you know how many basic vowel sounds English has?
All the Spanish vowels you’ll learn also exist in the English sound system, so they won’t give you much trouble.
In Spanish, you don’t have to worry about the position of the vowel to achieve correct pronunciation, as it’s always the same no matter its location.
Remember that Spanish vowels are always short. In English, you have long and short, but all the Spanish vowels are short even if they have an accent mark over them. You should just pronounce them stronger but not longer.
Recommended reading: How to Write and Pronounce Spanish Accent Marks.
Vowel Pairs – Diphthongs’ Pronunciation
Vowel pairs, or diphthongs, exist when two vowel sounds combine to create one unique sound.
Learn the following common vowel combinations to improve your pronunciation!
Listen to the audio to hear the words listed in the column on the right.
|Spanish Diphthongs||Pronounce This Spanish Word|
|ai or ay sounds like “eye”||el aire (air)|
|ei and ey rhymes with “hay”||el rey (king)|
|oi or oy rhymes with “toy”||voy (I go / I’m coming)|
|ui or uy rhymes with “gooey”||muy (very) / Luis (common name)|
|ia sounds like “yah”||estudiar (to study)|
|ie sounds like “yeh”||la tierra (earth)|
|io sounds like “yo”||delicioso (delicious)|
|iu sounds like “ew”||la viuda (widow)|
|au sounds like “ouch”||la aula (classroom)|
|eu has no equivalent in English.||Try saying the first part of the word “Beowulf” fast, you’ll get an idea. In Spanish, say la deuda (debt).|
|ua sounds like “wah”||el agua (water)|
|ue sounds like “weh”||la fuente (fountain)|
|uo sounds like “woah”||la cuota (fee)|
2 Common Vowel Pronunciation Mistakes
The most common pronunciation mistakes with Spanish vowels are:
- not exaggerating the vowels
- pronouncing letters e and o as diphthongs.
Listen to the following audio clip to hear these errors in use in the phrase no le digas que la quiero (“don’t tell her I love her”):
What’s happening here? Why does it sound this way?
The vowels aren’t exaggerated
Native English speakers have the tendency to replace weaker Spanish vowels with a “schwa” sound. What’s that exactly? Say “balloon”—that first vowel sound you made is a “schwa,” written /ə/.
A prime example of this is the word amigo. Many native English speakers automatically pronounce this as “uh-mee-go,” whereas in native Spanish, it’s pronounced “ah-mee-go.”
“Uh” is the schwa sound, while “ah” is an open, exaggerated vowel sound.
Any Spanish vowel that’s in a “weak position” in a word can fall prey to this pronunciation mistake. Another example is the word pelota, which may be pronounced as “puh-loh-tah” by an English speaker. Instead, it should be pronounced with a long e sound: “peh-loh-tah.”
PRO TIP: Immediately improve your Spanish pronunciation by opening your mouth and exaggerating all the vowels!
The letters e and o are pronounced as diphthongs
Many English speakers also tend to pronounce the letter o as ow (rhyming with “row”) or e as ei (rhyming with “pay”), especially at the end of the word or in stressed syllables.
These errors appear like this:
- no becomes “no-w” (again, rhyming with “row”)
- quiero turns into “qyer-ow”
- todos sounds like “tow-dos”
- le becomes “lay” (again, rhyming with “pay”)
The solution is lots of listening practice to native Spanish speakers and plenty of opportunities to speak.
PRO TIP: Each Spanish vowel has one sound, not two!
Pronunciation of Spanish Consonants
Consonants include all the letters in the Spanish alphabet that are not vowels.
Bb Cc Dd Ff Gg Hh Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Ññ Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz
Some of them form digraphs—or, combinations of two letters—that have one single sound:
Hear them here:
Let’s take a closer look at the Spanish consonants that may cause some pronunciation troubles.
Single Spanish Consonants
These consonants appear as a single letter and have a unique pronunciation compared to the same letters you’re used to using in English.
Pay close attention!
Bb and Vv
These two letters have the same pronunciation, but that pronunciation does change depending on where they’re located in a word.
(See examples and audio below.)
If these letters are in isolation or pronounced after a pause or after a nasal consonant /m, n/, you pronounce them as /b/. In this case, the “b” sound is softer than in English, and it doesn’t “explode,” or expel air from your mouth.
Meanwhile, if b or v exists between two vowels, they always have the sound /β/. In this second case, a bit of air does escape through your mouth.
Listen to the audio to hear the difference:
- bandera [‘ban.de.ra] – flag
- ambos [‘am.bos] – both
- envía [‘em.bía] – sends
- sabe [‘sa.βe] – knows
- lava [l’a.βa] – lava
Check out: How to Master B/V Pronunciation in Spanish
A similar thing happens to the letter “d.” Depending on the position, it’s pronounced in a different way.
It is pronounced as a stop [d] at the beginning of the word or after n or l, as in dama (ˈda.ma) (lady) or andar (ãn̪.ˈdaɾ).
But when it appears between two vowels, like in the word hada (ˈa.ða), it’s pronounced as [ð]—similar to the voiced “th” sound in English words “they” and “gather.”
If you don’t make this distinction, you will be understood, but native listeners will know that you’re not a native speaker.
Cc, Ss, and Zz
In Latin America, the Canary Islands, and some parts of Andalusia, there is no phonemic contrast between the letters s, z, and the letter c in combinations of ce and ci—you pronounce all of them with the /s/ sound.
- casa /’ka.sa/ – home
- caza /’ka.sa/ – hunting
- centro /ˈsɛ̃n̪.tɾo/ – center
- circo /’sir.ko/ – circus
- zapato /’sa.pa.to/ – shoe
However, if the letter c is followed by a consonant or vowel different from e or i, it will be pronounced with the /k/ sound.
- casa /’ka.sa/ – home
This Spanish letter can also have two pronunciations. You can pronounce it as [g] or [γ] also depending on its position in a word.
At the beginning of a word spoken in isolation, pronounced after a pause, or after a nasal consonant, you’ll hear and pronounce a [g]. Like in the English word “great.”
You’ll pronounce it the same way if it appears in combination with a letter u, which is silent in this case.
Between two vowels, it is always a [γ]. Move your tongue away from the palate, as if you wanted to remove something from there.
- gato /‘ga.to/ – cat
- guerra /
ɡera/ – war
- tengo [‘ten.go] – I have
- lago [l’a.γo] – lake
Hand-picked for you: Pronunciation of vowels and letters C and G
This Spanish letter is pronounced similar to the English “h” but it’s raspier. In phonetic transcription is written down as /x/.
- jamón /xaˈmõn/ – ham
- jirafa /xiˈɾafa/ – giraffe
- cojín /koˈxĩn/ – pillow
That’s an easy one. The letter h is silent in Spanish. Don’t pronounce it!
- hotel /o.tɛl/ – hotel
This sound doesn’t exist in English. If you know French or Italian, it’s similar to the “gn” combination. In phonetic transcription, you’ll find it as /ɲ/
- año /’a.ɲo/ – year
- piñata /’pi.ɲa.ta/
The letter q in Spanish is usually followed by the combination of vowels ui or ue, but the letter u is never pronounced. It is pronounced as the letter “k” or “ck”in English, like in “sock” or “make.”
- queso /’ke.so/ – cheese
- aquí /’a.ki/ – here
The letter r in Spanish is a tough one. You can pronounce it in two ways. If it appears in the middle of a word it’s pronounced as the letter “r” in “water” in American English, but if it’s at the beginning of a word, the r is trilled.
Keep your mouth relaxed and vibrate your tongue. Believe me, it’s just a question of practice. If you don’t have a palatal cleft, you’ll be able to pronounce it.
- coro /’ko.ro/ – choir
- rosa /’ro.sa/ – rose
The consonant w also has two pronunciations. You can say it with a sound /w/ like in the English word “whisky” or “Hawaii” or with a sound /b/ in some words.
Wagner /’ba.gner/ – Wagner
kiwi /’ki.wi/ – kiwi
Consonant Combinations – Digraphs
Learning these consonant letter combinations will dramatically improve your pronunciation and listening skills.
It sounds similar to the same English combination, like in the word “chair.”
- ocho /’oʧ.o/ – eight
- chica / /’ʧika/ – girl
This is also the trilled “r” sound as the single letter at the beginning of a word. If you want to learn how to pronounce it, read: How To Pronounce R and RR in Spanish
- carro /’ka.ro/ – car
- corro /’ko.ro/ – run
Ll/ll and Yy
The ll combination of letters in Latin American Spanish is pronounced with the sound /ʝ/ the same as the consonant y. Pronounce it like in the English word “yes.”
- callar /’ka.ʝar/ – make quiet
- llama /ˈʝa.ma/ -flame
Let me just show you all the sounds that exist in Spanish compared to the English sounds. This way, you can see which sounds don’t exist in English and know that these will take you some time to master.
See also: Confusing consonants in Spanish.
Pronouncing Common Spanish Words
Now, the fun part—let’s try some exercises!
I will show you five words that are easy to pronounce along with some common Spanish words that can be challenging for English speakers.
Note that challenging doesn’t mean impossible, it’s just a question of practice!
5 Easy-to-Pronounce Spanish Words
- hola – hello (Remember, the h is silent!)
- casa – house
- amigo – friend (watch out for the final “o”!)
- adiós – bye
- de nada – you’re welcome
5 Difficult to Pronounce Spanish Words
- Americano – American
- rápida – fast
- tarde – afternoon
- llover – to rain
- ciudad – city
How did it go? Was it difficult or are you naturally talented? People who are good singers learn foreign pronunciation faster, but if you have a good ear, it’s still doable. It will simply take more time. Spanish tongue twisters can help you reach your goal faster!
If you want to pronounce more difficult Spanish words, check How To Pronounce 10 Difficult Spanish Words [Includes Audio!].
Read more about Spanish pronunciation:
- Sinalefa: Why Spanish Isn’t Actually Pronounced as It’s Written
- An Expert Guide to Spanish Allophones and Phonemes
How to Practice Spanish Pronunciation
Remember, in terms of learning pronunciation, it’s all about regular practice. If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, check the Forvo dictionary, where you can hear the words said by real people—and even choose the accent.
Additionally, if you’d like to get the IPA phonetic transcription, use this Spanish Pronunciation Tool.
Practice Spanish Pronunciation in a Conversation
Working on your Spanish pronunciation is crucial for your future. It’s true that to travel and make yourself understood, you don’t need to sound like Gael García Bernal or Salma Hayek. But to get yourself a cool job as an interpreter or bilingual teacher, learning Spanish is worth the effort. Interpreters and translators are among the top five fastest-growing occupations according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with opportunities expected to increase.
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