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How to pronounce the letter C in Spanish?

The letter C in Spanish is pronounced in 3 different ways. Those 3 sounds exist in English, although they usually follow different rules.

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

1. Hard C (ca, co, cu)

IPA symbol

[k]

How to say HARD C

When the letter C is followed by a/o/u:

It’s pronounced like the letters C and K in sock, scan and fake.
It doesn’t sound like the letters C and K call, car or keep.

Examples of words with HARD C

ca: casa, cabe, acabar, barca.
/kasa/, /kabe/, /akabar/, /barka/.

co: cobre, cocacola, acompañar, barco.
/kobre/, /kokakola/, /akompañar/, /barko/.

cu: cuesta, cuento, cubierto, acudir.
/kuesta/, /kuento/, /kubierto/, /akudir/.

Tips to pronounce HARD C

  • The letter C has a clear and dry sound. This means that the sound finishes almost right after it starts.
  • Like the letter B, it doesn’t explode either: it’s a voiceless sound, which means that you could 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.

Other letters with the same sound

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
Q (que, qui) queso, quién
K kale, kiwi, Kuwáit

2. Soft C (ce, ci)

IPA symbol

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

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

When the letter C is followed by e/i (ce, ci).

Examples of words with SOFT C

ce: cena, cesta, cocer, hacemos.
/θena/, /θesta/, /coθer/, /aθemos/.

ci: cine, cien, vao, vacaciones.
/θine/, /θien/, /vaθío/, /vacaθiones/.

How to say the SOFT C

It sounds like «th» in thing and tooth.
It doesn’t sound like «th» in those or this.

Tips to pronounce the SOFT C

  • 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’d produce a different sound: [ð]. This sound corresponds to a Spanish D in 99% of the cases.

Other letters with the same sound

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

Sound

Letter

Examples

[θ] C (ce, ci) cenicero, circo
Z (za, zo, zu) zapato, trozo, zumo

3. CH

IPA symbol

When the letter C is followed by an H, the 2 letters are pronounced as a single sound: [ʧ]

How to say CH

It sounds almost the same as in English: chair and much.
It doesn’t sound like «ch» in ache.

Examples of words with CH

charco, China, chico, churros.
/ʧarco/, /ʧina/, /ʧico/, /ʧurros/.

ocho, coche, cuchillo.
/oʧo/, /coʧe/, /cuʧillo/.

Tips to pronounce CH

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

  • Place your tongue a bit further forward than when you say it in English. (The English CH has a touch of “SH” or [ʃ]).
  • 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 kissing shape).

To get the sound of Spanish CH, try to say the following words but hide your lips when you pronounce the CH –[ʧ]– , put your tongue a bit towards your teeth and smile at the same time.

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