Pronunciation of the Spanish Alphabet: 27 Letters, 33 Sounds, 37 Mouth Positions (with audio)

One of the first things we learn when we study a foreign language is the alphabet – perfect, we can spell but can you pronounce the letters of the alphabet accurately?

This is what you'll find in this post

Why do you have a thick accent?

Most of mispronunciations are consequence of reading a symbol (letter) and saying it as we’d do in our native language.

And it’s very tough to shut that association (letter-sound) off.

For example, most English natives pronounce the letter B in “la bota” (SP) as the English B in “a boat” (EN) (error!)

Your brain did the effort to learn this association a long time ago, and now, when you see the letter B, you don’t think how to pronounce it.

Your mouth produces the sound automatically.

The problem is that English, Vietnamese, or Spanish native speakers read and pronounce multiple letters in a different way so you’re likely to produce the wrong sound if you speak in Spanish or any other foreign language.

There’s 1 mistake (almost) every Spanish learner is making every day they practice, that’s screwing their pronunciation up.

And there’s 1 solution too (although you probably won’t put it into practice).

The answer is 8 minutes 57 seconds long (audio).

If you subscribe you’ll also find a couple of tests (which have -theoretically- noting to do with pronunciation) that will help you see with your own eyes, the reason of your thick accent and what to do instead to start fixing it and connect with natives in a deeper level.

“Spanish is a phonetic language” (a big fat lie)

You probably heard that, in Spanish, we pronounce the words as we spell them.
It’s a lie.

Some people may disagree and they will say “Spanish is a phonetic language” -and they’re quite right. Nonetheless, less than half of the letters of the Spanish alphabet are always pronounced the way they’re written.

It’s mathematics:

  • The Spanish aplphabet has 27 letters.
  • There are 33 sounds in general Castillian Spanish, so
  • Some letters are pronounced in 2 -or more- different ways, and
  • Some letters have the same sound.

For example, there’s more than one way to pronounce the letters like B, C or N.

If you want to be listened…

  • To prevent boring people to tears,
  • Ensure a fluent conversation that doesn’t require excessive effort from your listeners, and
  • Capture their attention

it’s essential to speak clearly.

And that’s far easier if you know how to produce the Spanish sounds.

And if you learn (it barely takes 1 or 2 days) the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) so that you can read any word in Spanish, even if it’s the first time you see it.

Today you’re going to see the Spanish alphabet and how to pronounce it:

  • IPA symbols.
  • Examples of Spanish words for each Spanish sound (with audio).
  • Examples of English words that contain that specific Spanish sound (or a similar one).
  • Audio. Because if we speak about sounds you should be able to listen to them.
  • A final image to summarize all the info.

Spanish sounds are produced in the front part of the mouth, while in English the pronunciation occurs more in the back.

When you pronounce Spanish, usually your mouth muscles are tenser than when you speak in English.

How to pronounce the letters of the Spanish alphabet?

Learning how to pronounce every single dialect of Spanish would be confusing (and it would take a lot of time) so I’m going to focus on general Castilian Spanish -the standard European Spanish.

In order to make it easier I’ve substituted some of the symbols of the IPA. For example, we’ll use [ñ] for the letter Ñ instead of [ɲ]. Let’s keep things simple.

You are going to see examples of words containing each specific sound, in Spanish (with audio) and in English.

If you find this symbol [∼] by the examples in English, it means that there is no word with the exact same sound in English. The words in the examples contain a similar sound to the Spanish one (but not exactly the same one).

Letter A (a)
IPA symbol: [a]

Examples of Spanish words with the letter A:
alfabeto, casa, amiga

It’s pronounce like in:
∼ fun, fine

More info:
How to pronounce the Spanish vowels.

Letter B (be)
IPA symbols: [b][β]

It can be pronounced in 2 different ways.

Pronunciation 1: Hard B [b]

It has a dry sound and it’s usually softer than the English B -it doesn’t explode.

Examples of Spanish words:
barco, hambre, cambio

Vive en Barcelona.

Lo hice con buena intención.

Examples of English words:
∼ bus, bean chamber, embrace

Pronunciation 2: Soft B [β]

The lips are not hermetically sealed. The sound is produced by letting escape from the mouth a trickle of air.

Examples of Spanish words:

abrir, hablar, abuelo

Me gustaría ir a Barcelona.

Examples of English words:
None

More info:
How to pronounce Spanish B and V.

Letter C (ce)
IPA symbols: [k][θ][ʧ]

It can be pronounced in 3 different ways.

Pronunciation 1: Hard C [k]

Examples of Spanish words:
vaca, color, cuando

Examples of English words:
∼sock, fake

Pronunciation 2: Sof C [θ]

It sounds a little bit softer than in English (it doesn’t explode).

Examples of Spanish words:
hacer, cielo

Examples of English words:
thing, tooth
The sound is produced by the air getting out of your mouth, between the teeth and the tongue.

Pronunciation 3: Ch [ʧ]

2 letters, 1 sound, like in English.

Examples of Spanish words:
ocho, chica, coche

Examples of English words:
chair, coach

It sounds similar in English – not the same. In English, it sounds kind of “shhhh” (chshh), in Spanish it sounds more like “sssss” (chs).

Try lifting the tip of your tongue.

More info:
How to pronounce Spanish C.

Letter D (de)
IPA symbols: [d][ð]

It has 2 different pronunciations:

Pronunciation 1: Hard D [d]

Examples of Spanish words:
¿De dónde vienes, Aldo?

Pronunciation 2: Soft D [ð]

Examples of Spanish words:
Tu padre viene después de desayunar.

Examples of English words:
this, those

Your tongue should be in the same position as when you pronounce the Spanish C (like in abecedario) but the sound is produced by vibrating the throat, not by blowing.

Touch it. You should notice that it vibrates.

*Here I wrote only the 2 official sounds but in colloquial speech, we may pronounce the letter D in up to 4+1 different ways! Or do not pronounce it at all.

More info:
How to pronounce Spanish D.
Silent D.

Letter E
IPA symbol: [e]

Examples of Spanish words:
elefante, edad, este

Examples of English words:
∼ went, pay

More info:
How to produce the sound of the Spanish vowels.

Letter F (efe)
IPA symbols: [f][v]

Most of the time we pronounce it as in English, but there are some exceptions: [v].

Pronunciation 1: [f] (as in English)

IPA symbol: We are going to use [f], since it’s the same sound as in English and you already have established an association that you can transfer to Spanish.

Examples of Spanish words:
feo, frío, África

Examples of English words:
fox, affair

Pronunciation 2: [v] (as English V)

Examples of Spanish words:
Dafne, Afganistán, afgano

Examples of English words:
violin, available

Letter G (ge)
IPA symbols: [X][g][ɣ]

It has 3 different pronunciations:

Pronunciation 1: Raspier G [X]

Examples of Spanish words:
geografía, energía

Examples of English words: None
It’s like a raspier English H.

DRILL TIP: Pronounce the English H but lift your tongue a little bit, just as if you were going to pronounce the letter K.

Pronunciation 2: Hard G [g]

Examples of Spanish words:
gas, gol, engrasar

Examples of English words:
gas, go, gate engage, English
Throaty sound. It doesn’t have the touch of [k] -like the English G in great.

Pronunciation 3: Soft G [ɣ]

Examples of Spanish words:
pagar, algo, agua

DRILL TIP: Imagine you have hairs in your palate and you have to caress it. The sound is produced when your tongue moves away from the palate.

More info:
Tips to pronounce Spanish G.

Letter H (hache)
IPA symbol: none (silent)

It only has a sound in words borrowed from other languages, like hamster or hockey.

Examples of Spanish words:
ahora, hielo, humo

Examples of English words:
hours, herb

Letter I (i)
IPA symbols: [i][j]

There are 2 ways of pronouncing this letter, and they sound almost the same.

Pronunciation 1: Regular [i]

Examples of Spanish words:
indio, limón, mira

Examples of English words:
∼ need, you

Pronunciation 2: in diphthongs [j]

You only find this sound in diphthongs.
viuda, viento, Indio

Examples of English words:
∼ yellow, yes

More info:
6 differences between English and Spanish vowels.

Letter J (jota)
IPA symbol [X]

Examples of Spanish words:
caja, traje, cojín, abajo, jugar

It sounds like the Spanish G in geografía.

Letter K (ka)
IPA symbol [k]

It sounds like the Spanish C in casa.

Examples of Spanish words:
koala, kiwi, kilómetro

Examples of English words:
∼sock, fake

Letter L (ele)
IPA symbols: [l][ʝ̞]

Expect 2 different pronunciations.

The IPA established up to 5 different mouth positions for the letter L in Spanish, but you can’t hear the difference in sound. (The positions are only for efficient speech, and they change depending on the sounds around L).

You are going to see 2 different pronunciations and 4 different mouth positions (depending on the following letter), just to make the transition to the next sound smother.

Pronunciation 1: [l]

3 different mouth positions.

Position 1: [l]

Examples of Spanish words:
luego, lila, ala

It doesn’t sound like in ball or cable.

DRILL TIP: Your tongue doesn’t touch your front teeth at all.

Position 2: [l̪]

Examples of Spanish words:
alto, aldea, oculta

DRILL TIP: Your tongue is closer to your front teeth than the previous [lʲ] and may (barely) touch them. Even though the position of your tongue is slightly different, it sounds like [l].

Position 3: [l̟]

Examples of Spanish words:
alzar, calcio, calcetín

DRILL TIP: The tip of your tongue is placed where your upper teeth meet the gum. It sounds like [l] too.

Pronunciation 2: Double L [ʝ̞]

The double L sounds like Spanish Y.

Examples of Spanish words:
lluvia, olla, calla

Examples of English words:
jeans, yes

Letter M (eme)
IPA symbol: [m]

Examples of Spanish words:
montaña, mamá, comer

Examples of English words:
mountain, mum

Letter N (ene)
IPA symbols: [n][ŋ][ɴ][ɱ][m]

It has 5 different pronunciations, but you’re going to see 7 mouth positions, depending on the following letter.

Pronunciation 1: [n]

The symbol we’re going to use is [n], but there are 3 mouth positions for this sound, and consequently, 3 IPA symbols:

Mouth position 1: [n]

Examples of Spanish words:
nido, andar, nana

Examples of English words:
name, now

Mouth position 2: [n̟]

Examples of Spanish words:
once, quince, concierto

DRILL TIP: The tip of your tongue appears between your teeth.

Mouth position 3: [n̪]

Examples of Spanish words:
andar, entrada, cantar

DRILL TIP: The tip of your tongue touches your upper teeth.

Pronunciation 2: Before [k] or Soft G [ŋ]

Examples of Spanish words:
ancla, encontrar, inglés

Examples of English words:
bang, English

Pronunciation 3: Before [X] G and J [ɴ]

Examples of Spanish words:
enjaular, ángel, injerto

Guisantes con jamón.

DRILL TIP: You should put your tongue further back than when you say “bang”. It’s the same position as when you pronounce the Spanish J, but your throat must be closed so the air comes out through your nose.

Pronunciation 4: Before F

IPA symbol: [ɱ]

Examples of Spanish words:
enfriar, confiar, infravalorar

It is pronounced with your upper teeth and lower lip (like the letter F), to make the transition to the next sound smoother.

Pronunciation 5: before V [m]

Examples of Spanish words:
envase, envidia, invitado

Examples of English words:
moon, comb

*In separated words (n+p, and n+b):

En Perú = em perú
En Bolivia = em bolivia

Letter Ñ (eñe)
IPA symbol: [ñ]

The original IPA symbol is different.

However, tt’s easier to associate Ñ with [ñ] than [ɲ] (which is the original IPA symbol, and very similar to the second pronunciation of the letter N).

The letter Ñ only exists in Spanish, so we aren’t gonna waste time on learning a new symbol.

Examples of Spanish words:
uña, mañana, niño

The letter Ñ only exists in the Spanish language (however, it sounds like French “gn” or Portuguese “nh”). 

It doesn’t sound as “n+i” (two sounds).

DRILL TIP: The middle part of the tongue touches the whole middle palate. The tip of the tongue doesn’t touch it. The sound is nasal and it’s produced when you separate your tongue from the upper palate*.

Before the actual sound -when your tongue is still touching the palate- you will hear a nasal N. You should keep that nasal sound when your tongue moves away from the palate.

Letter O (o)
IPA symbol: [o]

Examples of Spanish words:
oso, color, oro

Examples of English words:
∼ mall, talk

More info:
Tips to pronounce Spanish O.

Letter P (pe)
IPA symbol: [p]

Examples of Spanish words:
pelo, papel, piano

Examples of English words:
up, cap
It sounds close to English P -not the same.

More info:
How to pronounce Spanish P.

Letter Q (cu)
IPA symbol: [k]

It sounds like the Spanish C in casa.

The Spanish Q is always followed by:

  • UE (queso)
  • UI (quinto)

but the letter U is never pronounced.

Examples of Spanish words:
queso, pequeño, quiero, aq

Examples of English words:
∼sock, fake

Letter R (erre)
IPA symbols: [r][R]

As you know, this letter has 2 different pronunciations:

Pronunciation 1: Soft R [r]

Examples of Spanish words:
caro, horno, arpa

∼bitter, butter (Am. EN)
It sounds like “tt” in butter (in American English).

Pronunciation 2: Double R (trilled) [R]

IPA symbol: The original IPA symbol it’s almost identical to Soft R, so they could easlily be mistaken. To be more visual (since double R sounds stronger than Soft R), we’re going to use this symbol: [R]

Examples of Spanish words:
rueda, rubio
sonreir, alrevés
carro, perro, turrrón

All you need to roll your R’s (step by step).

DILL TIP: Call me crazy but, for some people, it’s easier to get the sound of rolled R if they do a headstand. Well… actually, it’s enough if you look down. (Gravity helps to keep your tongue on your palate).

Letter S (ese)
IPA symbol: [s]

Examples of Spanish words:
seta, salir, fiesta

Examples of English words:
see, soon

Letter T (te)
IPA symbol: [t]

Examples of Spanish words:
tener, tienda, tren

Examples of English words:
∼ football

More info:
How to pronounce Spanish T. 

Letter U (u)
IPA symbols: [u][w]

2 pronunciations slightly different, more for the mouth position than for the sound (like the letter I)

Pronunciation 1: Regular [u]

Examples of Spanish words:
luna, uno (the send word in the audio is pronounce differently (with the sound [w]). Can you hear the difference?

Examples of English words:
∼ moon, wet

Pronunciation 2: in diphthongs [w]

Examples of Spanish words:
abuelo, huevo, agua

Examples of English words:
winter, web

More info:
Mouth positioning and how to pronounce Spanish U.

Letter V (uve)
IPA symbols: [b][β]

Like the letter B, it has 2 different pronunciations:

Pronunciation 1: Hard V [b]

It sounds the same as Hard B.

Examples of Spanish words:
vela, viejo, video
envia, envío, invitado

Examples of English words:
bus, bean chamber, embrace

Pronunciation 2: Soft V [β]

It sounds the same as Soft B.

Examples of Spanish words:
avión, uva, Eva

More info:
How to pronounce the letters B and V.

Letter W (uve doble)
IPA symbols: [w][b][β]

Uve doble, double pronunciation.

Pronunciation 1: English W [w]

Examples of Spanish words (imported):
whisky, waterpolo, Hawai

Some Spaniards substitute this sound for a soft G (guaterpolo, Haguai)

Examples of English words:
way, web

Pronunciation 2: like the letters B and V [b][β]

Depending on the position of W, it sounds [b] or [β].

I don’t wanna bore you so I’m not gonna explain this again. You can see the info if you take a look at the letters B or V.

Examples of Spanish words (imported from German):
Wagner, Wamba

Examples of English words:
brown, brave

Letter X (equis)
IPA symbols: [s][ks]

You can pronounce it in 2 ways.

Pronunciation 1: like the letter S [s]

Examples of Spanish words:
xilófono, xenofobia

Examples of English words:
sea, saw

Pronunciation 2: two sounds together [ks]

It’s the only Spanish letter that is pronounced like 2 sounds: [k] + [s].
It’s pronounce like in English.

Examples of Spanish words:
taxi, oxígeno, saxofón

Examples of English words:
taxi, oxygen, saxophone

Letter Y (ye o “i griega”)
IPA symbols: [ʎ][ʝ̞][i]

Since a few years ago, the official name for the letter Y is “ye”, but a big part of Spaniards still call it “i griega” (greek i).

There are 2 different ways of pronouncing it. Or 3, but the 2 first are very similar.

Pronunciation 1: Hard consonant [ʎ]

It sounds like Spanish “ll”.

It’s pronounced stronger at the beginning of the sentence, after N, or when you want to emphasize.

Examples of Spanish words:
ya, cónyuge, inyección

Examples of English words:
jeans, yes

Pronunciation 2: Soft consonant [ʝ̞] 

Examples of Spanish words:
yoyó, vaya, ayer

DRILL TIP: Try to say jeans without crushing too much your tongue against the palate. If you hear “sh” sound, you went too far. Crush your tongue a little harder.

Most of Spanish natives pronounce [ʝ̞] and [ʎ] the same way.

Pronunciation 3: Vowel [i]

Examples of Spanish words:
jersey, buey, rey

Examples of English words:
yes, me

Letter Z (zeta)
IPA symbols: [θ][ð]

2 way of pronouncing the Z.

Pronunciation 1: like a Soft C [θ]

Examples of Spanish words:
zapato, buzón, zumo

Examples of English words:
throw

Pronunciation 2: like a Soft D [ð]

Examples of Spanish words:
hazme, hallazgo

Examples of English words:
this, those

The 33 sounds of Spanish in short

European Spanish has 33 sounds. However, there are 38 IPA symbols.

Why are those extra symbols?

  1. Natives often produce sounds like [l] or [n] with their mouths in different positions -depending on the following sound-, but they sound exactly the same (grey boxes of the table below).
  2. The distinction between the letters Y and LL (yes, LL used to be a letter in the Spanish alphabet) is fading in spoken language because they sound nearly identical.
    For most native speakers, these two sounds are indistinguishable, so it’s not essential to differentiate between them, unless, of course, you’re a CIA agent who needs mimicking a regional accent.
Spanish pronunciation guide IPA International Phonetic Alphabet pronunciation sounds to speak clearly, fluently, confidently, naturally, like a native Spaniard without English accent Alfabeto Fonétivo Internacional (AFI) pronunciación español sonidos para mejorar el habla

Understand the table

1. Continuous sound:
It means that the sound doesn’t end as soon as it starts (like [p], which ends and starts when you separate your lips).
You can keep a continuous sound for several seconds. For example, you can say “nnnnnnnot” (continuous sound) but it’s physically impossible to say “nottttttt”.

2. The boxes in grey:
They represent the same sound as [l] and [n] but the mouth position is different:

  • n̪, l̪: Dental sound.
    “ᴨ” indicates that the sound is produced by placing your tongue where your upper teeth meet the gum.
  • n̟, l̟: Advanced sound.
    “+” means that the letter is produced forward. For example, to pronounce [n̟] your tongue touches your lower teeth too (quince).

3. Where is the sound #38?

I didn’t include it on the table, since (as I already said) it’s disappearing from Spanish language so I don’t want you to waste time with a sound that won’t make a difference in your speech.

To practice the sounds of Spanish, you can follow the recommendations of these 5 experts to improve your pronunciation and listening.

1 mistake (almost) everybody do every day they practice their Spanish,
that is preventing them from having a good pronunciation and connect with natives

And what to do instead

8 minutes and 57 seconds, and you can start doing the same from today, if you want.