Letter C: 3 different pronunciations in Spanish (with audio + examples)

Do you really know how to pronounce the letter C in Spanish?

The letter C may be pronounced in 3 different ways, depending on the following letter. One of those 3 sounds already exists in English, although you never use it for the letter C.

The other 2 sounds are very similar in English and Spanish but there is a slight difference.

Let’s see the 3 ways of pronouncing the letter C.

1. Pronunciation of Spanish C (HARD – ca, co, cu)

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol

[k]

If you want to know exactly how to pronounce any Spanish word, here you can find all the Spanish letters, their pronunciation, the symbols that correspond to each sound, and some examples.

How to say the letter C (HARD)

  • It’s pronounced very similar to the letters C and K in sock, scan and fake but a little bit softer.
  • It doesn’t sound like the letters C and K call, car or keep. The letter C in Spanish doesn’t explode (it doesn’t have that puff of air).

Tips to pronounce Spanish C (HARD) like a native speaker

  • The letter C has a clear and dry sound. This means that the sound finishes almost right after it starts.
  • Like the letter B in Spanish, it doesn’t explode either: it’s a voiceless sound, which means that you can pronounce it even if you hold your breath because you don’t need any air to pronounce the HARD C.
  • The sound is produced just when your tongue gets separated from the palate.
Mouth positioning to produce the Spanish sounds for the letters  C, K, CH, Ñ, Q. Tongue agaist your palate.
Position of the mouth to pronounce Spanish HARD C [k]

When do I pronounce the letter C as a HARD C?

When the letter C is followed by A, O, or U (ca, co, cu).

Examples of Spanish words with the letter C (HARD)

vaca, calor, cuánto
[‘ba.ka], [ka.’lor], [‘kwan.to]

ca: casa, cable, acabar, barca
[‘ka.sa], [‘ka.βe], [a.ka.’βar], [‘bar.ka].

co: cobre, cocacola, acompañar, corco.
[ko.βre], [ko.ka.’ko.la], [a.kom.pa.’ñar], [‘bar.ko].

cu: cuesta, cuento, cubierto, acudir.
[‘kues.ta], [kuen.to], [ku
.’βier.to], [a.ku.’dir].

Other letters that sound like Spanish C (HARD)

The letters K and Q in Spanish are pronounced exactly the same as HARD C [k].

Sound

Letter

Examples

[k]C (ca, co, cu)cara, coco, cuando
[kara, koko, kuando]
Q (que, qui)queso, quién
[keso, kién]
K

kale, kiwi, kilo
[kale, kiwi, kilo]

2. Pronunciation of Spanish C (SOFT – ce, ci)

International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol

The symbol which represents the SOFT C is [θ].

How to say the letter C (SOFT)

The sound is produced by the air getting out of your mouth, between the teeth and the tongue.

  • It sounds like “th” in thing and tooth.
  • It doesn’t sound like “th” in those or this.

In most of Latin America and some parts of Spain (mainly in the South: the Canary Islands, Andalucía and Ceuta) the SOFT C is pronounced like an S (as in “slow”)

Tips to pronounce the letter C (SOFT) like a native speaker

letter C in Spanish SOFT z position of your mouth tongue and teeth
  • Put your tongue in between your teeth, as if you were biting it.
  • You can produce the sound of SOFT C by the air getting out of your mouth, between your upper teeth and the tongue.
  • The SOFT C sound is voiceless. This means that you don’t use your voice to produce it. You can notice that it is voiceless when you touch your throat because it doesn’t vibrate.

If your throat vibrates you produce a different sound: [ð]. This is the sound of Spanish D.

When do I pronounce the letter C as a SOFT C?

When the letter C is followed by E or I (ce, ci).

Examples of Spanish words with the letter C (SOFT)

hacer, cielo
[a’θer], [‘θie.lo]

ce: cena, cesta, cocer, hacemos
[‘θe.na], [‘θes.ta], [co.’θer], [a.’θe.mos]

ci: cine, cien, vacío, vacaciones
[‘θi.ne], [θien], [ba.’θi.o], [ba.ka.’θio.nes]

Other letters that sound the same as Spanish C (SOFT)

The pronunciation of SOFT C [θ] is exactly the same as the letter Z in Spanish.

Sound

Letter

Examples

[θ]C (ce, ci)

cenicero, circo
[θeniθero, θirko]

Z (za, zo, zu)zapato, trozo, zumo
[θapato, troθo, θumo]

3. Pronunciation of Spanish CH

When I was a child, the letter CH (che) was one of the 29 (now 27) letters of the Spanish alphabet.

IPA symbol

If the letter C is followed by an H (ch), the 2 letters are pronounced as a single sound: [ʧ].

CH is pronounced slightly different in English and Spanish, even though both languages use the same symbol [ʧ].

How to pronounce CH in Spanish

  • In Spanish, CH sounds almost the same as in English, like in chair and much, but
  • The English CH has a touch of “SH” [ʃ] so it sounds something like CHSHHH, while the Spanish CH sounds more like an “S” at the end (CHSSS).
  • It doesn’t sound like “ch” in ache.

Tips to pronounce Spanish CH

If you want to pronounce the Spanish CH like a native speaker, try this:

  • Place your tongue a bit further forward than when you say it in English.
  • Avoid the kissing shape. Your lips are more relaxed when pronouncing Spanish CH, while your lips are tenser when pronouncing it in English (a little bit like a kissing shape).
Spanish ch vs English ch differences in pronunciation position of your mouth, tongue and lips sound like a Spaniard
#5 corresponds to Spanish ch. #6 corresponds to English ch

Say “salchicha” (with English accent) and identify where you put your tongue. Now, to get the sound of Spanish CH, hide your lips when you pronounce the CH –[ʧ]-, put your tongue a bit towards your teeth and smile at the same time.

Do you feel the difference?

Examples of Spanish words with CH

ocho, chica, coche
[‘o.ʧo], [‘ʧi.ka], [‘ko.ʧe]

charco, China, chico, churros
[‘ʧar.ko], [‘ʧi.na], [‘ʧi.ko], [‘ʧu.Ros]

pocho, noche, cuchillo
[‘po.ʧo], [‘no.ʧe], [ku.’ʧi.jo]

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.