Spanish Alphabet Basics: Learn Your ABCs!
As a child, one of the first things we learn about language is the ABCs. Still, when you (or your little one!) start learning a second language, it may seem frustrating to go all the way back to the beginning and study the Spanish alphabet, especially when it’s so similar to the English alphabet.
Knowing the Spanish alphabet—both the letter names and the sounds they make—is essential for Spanish pronunciation, fluency, and spelling!
Perks of the Spanish Alphabet
Luckily, the Spanish and English language share many cognates, and that is obvious when you compare the two alphabets.
Both the English and Spanish alphabets are derived from Latin script, so they share almost the exact same letters. The only difference is that the Spanish alphabet has an extra letter: the ñ. Additionally, the sounds and names of the letters are notably similar, which makes it quite easy to memorize them and use them to spell different words.
The Spanish Alphabet – El Abecedario
Below is a list of all 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet. The middle column contains the letter names, or how you would pronounce them when saying the alphabet. The third column represents how to pronounce the letters in words.
|C||say||ka and sa|
|D||day||da and th|
|G||hay||ha and ga|
|L||ehl-lay||la, y, or j|
|R||air-ray||ra (with tongue roll)|
|W||doh-blay oo (doh-blay bay, doh-blay oo-bay)||wa|
|Y||ee gree-ay-gah (yay)||ya, ja, ee|
If you studied Spanish in high school over 10 years ago, you might think there are two letters missing: the CH and LL. Before 2010, these letters were an official part of the Spanish alphabet. However, these letter pairings are no longer included in the list even though they are still commonly used in the Spanish language.
Letters with Multiple Names
A few letters have multiple names. The Spanish V has the same pronunciation as the B, and as such is often called by the same name: “bay.” However, there is a lot of confusion between the two letters, and many people say “bay” grande (big B) or “bay” pequenña” (small B) to differentiate between the two. To avoid any miscommunication, the name “ubay” was introduced for the V.
Similarly, the W has many names. It can either be called “double u” (doh-blay oo), “double B/V” (doh-blay bay), or “double V” (doh-blay oo-bay). All of these names are acceptable, and the one you choose to use depends on which name you use for the V.
Another letter that has two names is the Y. Because it can be pronounced like vowel I (ee), it was originally named the i griega (Greek I). However, a new name was introduced recently that reflects this letter’s other pronunciations: ye (pronounced “yay”).
Tricky Letters in the Spanish Alphabet
While many of the letters in the Spanish alphabet look and sound like English letters, there are some subtle differences. Take your time to learn and practice each letter pronunciation, and over time you will develop a flawless Spanish accent!
The Spanish vowels are straightforward. Unlike in English, each vowel only has one sound in every situation. Even when there are vowel combinations, the vowels are clearly heard. The only exception to this is when the U is used as a helping vowel. In these cases, the U is silent and the following vowel is pronounced.
A: araña (ah-rah-nyah)
E: elefante (ay-lay-fahn-tay)
I: isla (ees-lah)
O: oso (oh-soh)
U: uva (oo-bah)
Exception with the U: guitarra (gee-tahr-rah)
Practice all the vowels together with these words:
Murciélago – bat (animal)
Educación – education
Consecuencia – consequence
Entusiasmo – enthusiasm
The Spanish D is a deceivingly tricky letter to master. While it is pronounced strongly in some cases (like delfín and dinosaurio), it has a softer sound in the middle or at the end of a word.
To pronounce the D correctly, don’t put your tongue on the roof of your mouth, put in between your teeth as if you were saying “th” in English. This makes all the difference in perfecting your Spanish pronunciation. Instead of pronouncing dedo like day-doh, make the Ds softer with a slight “th” sound. The correct pronunciation is a soft mix of the hard English D and the TH sound.
Practice the Spanish D with these words:
Dedo – finger
Oportunidad – opportunity
Estadística – statistic
Dividir – divide
In the Spanish alphabet, there is only one letter that is consistently silent. The H is a quiet helper and is often forgotten in spelling because of that. However, it still plays an important role by separating letters in the middle of a word to clearly define the syllables or distinguish between two words that are otherwise spelled and pronounced the same (like in hola and ola).
Use these words to practice the H:
Hoja – leaf
Helado – ice cream
Hormiga – ant
Almohada – pillow
Since the Spanish H is silent, another letter needs to step up and produce the “he” sound like in “hay.” The J does just that. Instead of the hard “je” sound found in English, the J is always pronounced with a “he” sound. For example, instead of pronouncing jaguar “jag-war” like in English, it is pronounced “hag-war.” Many of the J words are English-Spanish cognates, so you may be tempted to pronounce the words with an English pronunciation at first glance. However, keep in mind that the J is soft!
Justicia – justice
Jugar – play
Juez – judge
Julio – July
L and LL
As previously mentioned, the LL was once considered its own letter because of the unique pronunciation. While a single L is pronounced like the English L, a double L is pronounced like a Y, SH, or J, depending on the location. For example, the word bella can be pronounced “bay-yah,” “bay-jah,” or “bay-shah.” With such a vast diversity in pronunciation, it is best to practice with the J sound, which is the most common pronunciation used.
Llama – llama, flame
Llave – key
Amarillo – yellow
Ella – she
While the Ñ is the only unique letter in the two alphabets, it is actually a pretty simple letter. It is pronounced like a combination of an N and a Y for a “nyah” sound.
Practice the Ñ with these words:
Engañar – to cheat
Mañana – tomorrow
Acompañar – to accompany
Español – Spanish
R and RR
The infamous Spanish R! To truly sound like a native Spanish-speaker, you need to pronounce the R correctly, which involves rolling your tongue. It can take years to learn how to do even for native speakers, so be patient with yourself!
It is important to note that there are two different ways to pronounce the R: a soft roll and a hard roll. The soft roll is only used in the middle of a word with a single R. The hard roll is used every other time: when a single R is at the beginning or end of a word, or a RR is used in the middle.
Practice the R with these words:
Rosa – rose
Desarrollar – to develop
Reparar – to repair
Rendir – to give up
The S is pronounced exactly the same in both English and Spanish. So, which is it on this list of tricky letters? There is one interesting aspect of the Spanish S that is worth talking about. Many words start with the S, but there is not a single word that starts with an S followed by a consonant. If the word has that combination, it is always preceded by an E. For example:
Escuela – school
Estudiar – study
Esperar – to wait
Esqueleto – skeleton
The V is one of the most confusing letters in the Spanish alphabet, especially for native speakers. In English, we are accustomed to a clear distinction between the B and V, but these letters are pronounced exactly the same in Spanish. This doesn’t really help us to figure out if a word is spelled with a B or V, so it really comes down to memorizing the which words use a B and which use a V. However, there are many words that use a V in Spanish that also are spelled with a V in English.
Variedad – variety
Vaca – cow
Vacación – vacation
Venir – to come
K and W
While these letters form part of the Spanish alphabet, they are not regularly used. The K and W sounds are commonly written with a C or QU and GU respectively. When the K and W are used it is usually in words that come directly from English. For example:
The X is generally the same in both languages, except when it appears at the beginning of a word, which isn’t often! When a word starts with an X, instead of making a Z sound like in English, it makes an S sound.
If you are traveling to Mexico or Central America, you may come across some interesting place names that start with X, a common letter in the Aztec and Mayan languages. In these cases, the X is pronounced as an SH, as in Xela, Guatemala.
Xerografía – photocopying
Xilófono – xylophone
The Y is a versatile letter with multiple pronunciations depending on its placement in a word. When it acts as a vowel, often at the end of a word and following a vowel, it sounds like “ee” or the Spanish vowel I (like in hoy and estoy). As a consonant, the Y sounds the same as the Spanish J. The pronunciation ranges from “yah” to “jah” to “shah.” Again, the more common pronunciation is “jah,” like in the word ya.
Yo – I
Yema – yolk
Voy – I go
Afluyente – Affluent
Just like several previous letters in the Spanish language, the Z is pronounced differently in various Spanish-speaking countries. As a general rule, it is pronounced as a TH in Spanish and as an S in Latin America. However, even though the Z sounds like an S in common speech, people still learn it as having a TH sound.
Zapato – shoe
Zanja – ditch
Zoológico – zoo
Zona – zone
Practice the Spanish Alphabet
It’s always helpful to connect a letter to a word that starts with it. We’ve included a list of common words that are used to teach the letters of the Spanish alphabet. You can either use these words to practice each letter, or you can look up pictures of each object and practice saying the word and the corresponding letter in Spanish.
If you want to practice with your child, encourage them to use whole phrases to memorize the letters, as in:
A is for airplane.
La A es para avión.
|Letter||Spanish Word||English Word|
Make It Fun!
Whether you’re learning the Spanish alphabet as an adult or teaching your child these letters, make the learning process enjoyable! Print out some Spanish ABC coloring sheets, turn on the alphabet song in Spanish, or hang up letters and pictures of the correlating objects around the house to help you study.
The key to mastering some of the tricky pronunciations, keep a list of words handy and practice them whenever possible. This is especially useful with the Spanish R, as mastering the tongue roll takes lots of practice. You can also practice spelling words and your kids’ names to put the Spanish alphabet into practice.
If you would like to hear exactly how these letters are pronounced and practice them with a real teacher, try a free class with the Homeschool Spanish Academy! Our native Spanish-speaking teachers are sure to lead you to great Spanish pronunciation in no time. ¡Practiquemos el abecedario en español!
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