The Spanish alphabet: 27 letters, 5 vowels, 37 sounds – Tips to pronounce like a native speaker
You might have heard that, in Spanish, we pronounce the words as they’re written.
It’s not true.
Some people may disagree and say “Spanish is a phonetic language” -and it is. However, less than half of the letters of the Spanish alphabet are always pronounced the way they’re written.
In other words, there’s more than one way to pronounce most of the letters, like the letter B, the letter C or the letter N.
When we study a foreign language we start by learning the alphabet so that we can spell the words, however, very few of us learn how to pronounce each sound of the new language.
Working on the sounds of Spanish and its articulation point is essential to hold a fluent conversation without forcing people to put too much effort into it.
Do you want to master the sounds of the Spanish alphabet?
Table of contents
- 1 Pronunciation of the Spanish alphabet
- 1.1 Letter a
- 1.2 Letter b
- 1.3 Letter c
- 1.4 Letter d
- 1.5 Letter e
- 1.6 Letter f
- 1.7 Letter g
- 1.8 Letter h
- 1.9 Letter i
- 1.10 Letter j
- 1.11 Letter k
- 1.12 Letter l
- 1.13 Letter m
- 1.14 Letter n
- 1.15 Letter ñ
- 1.16 Letter o
- 1.17 Letter p
- 1.18 Letter q
- 1.19 Letter r
- 1.20 Letter s
- 1.21 Letter t
- 1.22 Letter u
- 1.23 Letter v
- 1.24 Letter w
- 1.25 Letter x
- 1.26 Letter y
- 1.27 Letter z
- 2 4 curiosities about the Spanish alphabet
- 2.1 Extincted letters
- 2.2 Letters of the alphabet which has changed their name
- 2.3 How many of the 37 sounds of Spanish did you know? What sound do you find the most difficult?
When you pronounce Spanish, your mouth muscles are tenser than when you speak in English.
Pronunciation of the Spanish alphabet
Learning how to pronounce every single dialect of Spanish would be confusing for you and would take much more time so I’m going to focus on Castilian Spanish -the standard European Spanish.
The table below shows:
- The letters of the Spanish alphabet and their names (first column).
- International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The symbol on the second column represents a specific sound which is usually common in more than language. These symbols make easier reading and pronouncing any foreign language. Maybe you’ve already seen some of them -some are common to both English and Spanish (second column).
In order to make it easier I’ve substituted some of the sounds of the IPA, for example, we’ll use [ñ] for the letter Ñ instead of [ɲ] -no need to make things more difficult! 🙂
- Examples of English words which contain that specific sound or a similar one – when the sound isn’t exactly the same, you will find this symbol [∼] (third column).
- Examples of Spanish words for that specific sound (fourth column).
- Some hacks to pronounce the Spanish letters (last column).
|LETTER||IPA||SOUND LIKE…||EXAMPLES||HOW TO PRONOUNCE THE LETTER|
|[a]||∼ fun, fine||alfabeto, casa, amiga||Click to see how to pronounce the Spanish vowels.|
|[b]||∼ bus, bean chamber, embrace||barco, hambre, cambio
Vive en Barcelona.
Lo hice con buena intención.
|The letter B has a dry sound and it’s softer than the English B -it doesn’t explode.|
|[β]||abrir, hablar, abuelo
Me gustaría ir a Barcelona.
|The lips are not hermetically sealed. The sound is produced by letting escape from the mouth a trickle of air.|
|More info on how to pronounce the Spanish B.|
|[k]||∼sock, fake||vaca, color, cuando||The letter C has a dry sound and -like letter B- doesn’t explode either: it’s a voiceless sound so you could pronounce it even if you hold your breath. It’s produced just when your throat gets open.|
|[θ]||thing, tooth||hacer, cielo||The sound is produced by the air getting out of your mouth, between the teeth and the tongue.|
ocho, chica, coche
|In English sounds the same.|
|[d]||¿De dónde vienes, Aldo?||
The letter D has a dry sound. Your tongue, relaxed, touches your upper teeth and palate at the same time. The sound is produced when it’s separated from them.
TIP: the tip of your tongue doesn’t touch your palate. Try putting the very tip of your tongue in between your teeth, like if you were biting it.
|[ð]||this, those||Tu padre viene después de desayunar.||Your tongue should be in the same position as in SOFT C but, this time, the sound is produced by the throat. If you touch it you should notice that it vibrates.|
|[e]||∼ went, pay||elefante, edad, este|
|[f]||fox, affair||feo, frío, África|
|[v]||view, voice||Dafne, Afganistán, afgano|
|[X]||(raspier English H)||geografía, energía||
The letter G sounds like the letter J in Spanish. The sound is close to the English H.
TIP: Pronounce the English H but lift your tongue a little bit, just as if you were going to pronounce the letter K.
|[g]||∼ gas, go, gate engage, English||gas, gol, engrasar||Throaty sound. The Spanish SOFT G doesn’t have the touch of /k/ -like the letter G in English.|
|[ɣ]||pagar, algo, agua||The feeling in your throat/back palate should be similar to caress the hairs in your arm, without actually touching the arm.
Imagine you have hair in your palate and you have to caress it. The sound is produced when your tongue moves away from the palate.
|No sound||ahora, hielo, humo||It only has a sound in words borrowed from other languages, like hamster or hockey.|
|[i]||∼ need, you||indio, limón, mira|
|[j]||∼ yellow, yes||In diphthongs.
viuda, viento, indio
|[X]||caja, traje, cojín, abajo, jugar||The letter J sounds like HARD G.|
|[k]||∼sock, fake||koala, kiwi, kilómetro||The letter K sounds like HARD C.|
|[l]||luego, lila, ala||It doesn’t sound like in ball or cable. Your tongue doesn’t touch your front teeth at all.|
|[lʲ]||colcha, colchón, salchicha||Your tongue is a little closer to your front teeth than the previous [l] but it doesn’t touch them.|
|[l̪]||alto, aldea, oculta||Your tongue is closer to your front teeth than the previous [lʲ] and may (barely) touch them.|
|[l̟]||alzar, calcio, calcetín||Finally, your tongue touches your front teeth.|
|[ʝ̞] , [ʤ]||∼ jeans, Jimmy||-ll-
lluvia, olla, calla
|The double L sounds like Spanish Y.|
|[m]||mountain, mum||montaña, mamá, comer
|[n]||name, now||nido, andar, nana|
|[n̟]||once, quince, concierto||The tip of your tongue appears between your teeth.|
|[ŋ]||bang, English||ancla, encontrar, inglés|
enjaular, ángel, injerto
Guisantes con jamón.
|You should put your tongue further back. Its position is the same when you pronounce letter J but your throat must be closed so the air comes out through your nose.|
|[ɱ]||enfriar, confiar, infravalorar||The letter N is pronounced with your upper teeth and lower lip (like the letter F).|
|[m]||moon, comb||envase, envidia, invitado|
|[ñ]||uña, mañana, niño||
The letter Ñ has only one sound -it isn’t the same as “ny” or “n+i” (two sounds). Letter Ñ sounds like French “gn”.
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.
|[o]||∼ mall, talk||oso, color, oro|
|[p]||up, cap||pelo, pantalón, piano||The letter P doesn’t have the puff of air which characterizes the English P, like in the word pinguin.|
|[k]||∼sock, fake||que, qui
queso, pequeño, quiero, aquí
|The letter Q sounds like HARD C. It’s always followed by “ue” or “ui” but the letter U is never pronounced.|
|[r]||bitter, butter (Am. EN)||caro, horno, arpa||The letter R sounds like “tt” in American English.|
|[R]|| (trilled sound)
carro, perro, turrrón
To pronounce trilled R your tongue must be relaxed: it is the air what produces the sound, not your tongue. Your tongue touches your palate, not your front teeth.
TIP: Call me crazy but it’s easier to get the sound if you do a headstand.
||seta, salir, fiesta|
|[t]||∼ football||tener, tienda, tren||
To pronounce the letter T your tongue touches the upper front teeth -when pronouncing the Spanish D the tongue’s in the same position.
TIP: try touching your lower teeth too.
|[u]||∼ moon, wet||luna, cuerda, uno|
|[w]||∼ kiwi, web||In diphthongs.
abuelo, huevo, agua
|[b]||∼ bus, bean chamber, embrace||vela, viejo, video
envidia, envío, invitado
|The letter V sounds like the letter B.|
|[β]||avión, uva, Eva||It sounds like SOFT B.|
|More info on how to pronounce the Spanish V.|
|[w]||∼ kiwi, web||whisky, waterpolo, Hawai|
|[b]||∼ brown, brave||Wagner, Wamba||It’s pronounced like the letters V and B.|
|[s]||sea, saw||xilófono, xenofobia||The letter X sounds like S.|
|[ks]||taxi, flexible||taxi, oxígeno, saxofón||It’s the only Spanish letter which is pronounced like 2 sounds: [k] + [s]|
ya, cónyuge, inyección
|The letter Y sounds like Spanish “ll”.|
|[ʝ̞]||yoyó, vaya, ayer||TIP: Try to say jeans without crushing your tongue against the palate.|
|[i]||∼ yes, me,||jersey, buey, rey||Sounds like the Spanish vowel I.|
|[θ]||throw||zapato, buzón, zzumo||The letter Z is pronounced like SOFT C.|
|[ð]||this, those||hazme, hallazgo||It sounds like SOFT D.|
4 curiosities about the Spanish alphabet
It seems that double letters tend to disappear from the Spanish language.
1. Double L or elle (ll) and che (ch)
When I studied the alphabet at school, double L (ll) and che (ch) were part of it. Nowadays they aren’t considered letters anymore but digraphs (2 letters) so they have disappeared from the alphabet. Since last century -this sounds weird- the Spanish alphabet has 27 letters.
2. Double N (nn): the origin of the letter Ñ
Centuries ago, people wrote in parchments. They were very expensive so ancient scribes needed to save as much space as possible when writing. The best option to do so was to make the words shorter by removing some letters.
Old Spanish had double N (nn) so ancient scribes decided to remove one of them. The readers knew that one N was removed because the scribes wrote the letter N with a mark (~) on top of it. This new letter became so popular that in the XIV century the letter Ñ became official.
Letters of the alphabet which has changed their name
3. Letters Y and I
Currently, the name of this letter is “ye”, but at school, I learned that we should call it “i griega” (Greek i). And the letter I was called “i latina” (Latin i), currently known as “i”.
4. Letters B and V
Since I can remember, we called this letter “be” in Spain. However, it wasn’t an official name. In Latin America, they used to call it “be grande” or “be larga” (big B or long B) and letter V was known as “ve chica” or “be corta” (small or short V). Now the name of these two letters is the same everywhere: “be” and “uve”.
How many of the 37 sounds of Spanish did you know? What sound do you find the most difficult?
Answer in the comments below ⇓⇓⇓