Spanish vowels: What do they sound like? How to pronounce them like a native speaker?

Did you know that almost half of the sounds we pronounce when speaking Spanish are vowels?

If you pronounce them wrong, it’ll be difficult to understand what you’re saying.

In this post, you’ll find:

  • How to pronounce each Spanish vowel correctly.
  • Comparison between English and Spanish vowel sounds.
  • A bit of mouth positioning + images to help you understand the position of your mouth.
  • Examples of English words that contain vowel sounds similar to the Spanish ones (remember no single vowel sounds the same in English and Spanish).

A song to practice your vowels

There’s a famous rap song that I use quite often to help my students practice their vowels. It’s called “Efectos Vocales” from Nach Scratch, and it’s divided into 3 parts:

  • in the first one, Nach sings only with the vowel A,
  • in the second part, he sings only with the vowel O, and
  • in the last part, he sings only with the vowel E.

How to produce a vowel sound accurately

To say any vowel you need to control:

  • Your lips
  • Your jaw
  • Your tongue

(To better understand this post on how to pronounce the Spanish vowels, I recommend you take a look at “Mouth positioning for pronouncing the Spanish vowels accurately”).

Spanish vowels sounds IPA chart position of the mouth to pronounce  examples pronounciation español pronunciacion espanol como pronunciar vocales

A little change in the position of your mouth can make you produce a totally different vowel sound and, consequently, change the meaning of what you are saying.

Have you ever heard a Spaniard pronouncing the word sheet? -This is definitely a word that many Spanish natives avoid when they speak in English.


Picture a Spanish native saying to his boss: “I’ll bring you the shit in a minute”. (It wouldn’t be rare at all). We have a very strong accent because, among other things, Spanish vowels are totally different from English vowels.

Let’s get to the point!

For a clearer explanation on how to pronounce the Spanish vowels, I’ll write English sounds and letters in pink and Spanish sounds and letters in tuquoise.

How to pronounce the vowel A in Spanish

Most of the books/teachers/blogs say it sounds the same as the letter A in father”. However, this affirmation isn’t very accurate since there are a lot of English accents and dialects.

Let’s make it clearer.

The Spanish A sounds like…

  • The letter A (Australian English) in “car”.
  • The letter I (South of the USA) in “like” -only the first vowel of the diphthong.

Similar sounds that exist in every English dialect:

  • [ɑ:] (father)
  • [ɒ] (lot) -but your lips are not rounded.

These vowel sounds –[ɑ]/ and [ɒ] – and the Spanish A look very much alike. They are similar, but they don’t sound exactly the same.

How to produce the sound of Spanish A [a]

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Open
  • Lips: Unrounded
  • Tongue: Center

The chart below will help you understand the position of your mouth to get the Spanish A [a].

Tips to pronounce the Spanish A letter vowel tricks to sounds more native like

Differences between Spanish A [a] and English [æ] [ʌ]

The Spanish A is somehow in between the English [æ] (cat) and [ʌ] (cut) but your mouth should be more open.


English [æ]

(cat, cap)

Spanish A [a]

(cata, capa)

English [ʌ]

(cut, cup)

JawMid-openVery openOpen
  • The corners of your mouth are separated (as if you were smiling).

Your mouth moves:

←      →

Between [ʌ] and [æ].

  • The corners of your mouth are separated.
  • The upper and lower lip are very separated.

Your mouth moves:

←                →

  • The corners of your mouth are relaxed.
  • The lips are quite separated.

Your mouth moves:


Tongue (closer to the…)TeethCentre of your mouthThroat
The sound comes from the…MouthMouthThroat

Say “cup”, “cap” and “cop” following the indications on the previous table to produce the Spanish A. The sound you get should be different to the vowel sounds you normally use to pronounce those words in English –[ʌ], [æ] and [ɑ].

Three differences between Spanish A and English [ɑ:] [ɒ]

When you pronounce the Spanish A:

  1. The corners of your mouth are more separated -your lips are not rounded at all, like in /ɒ/.
  2. Your tongue is further forward.
  3. The sound comes from your mouth, not from the throat -it isn’t so deep.

Say “father” and “lot”, first normally (in English) and then pronounce those words while you open your mouth a lot and smile at the same time -as if you were screaming. Allow your mouth to produce a different sound and you’ll get the Spanish A.

How to pronounce the vowel E in Spanish

The Spanish E sounds like…

Many sites say that the Spanish E sounds like the E in “pet” or “bet” ([ɛ]).

This affirmation isn’t accurate unless you’re from Yorkshire because the sound of Spanish E only exists in Yorkshire English.

British, Australian, or American English don’t have the sound of Spanish E. 

How to produce the sound of Spanish E [e]

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Mid-open
  • Lips: Unrounded
  • Tongue: Front
Pronounce the Spanish E like a native with these simple tips tricks for English natives

Four differences between Spanish E [e] and [ɛ]

The main difference is that [ɛ] is more open so it has a touch of [a]. Spanish E doesn’t. It sounds pure.

When you pronounce Spanish E:

  • Your jaw is closer
  • Your tongue is a little upper, further forward, and spread toward your side teeth.
  • The sound is produced in your mouth -not in your throat, so the sound isn’t so deep.

Try saying words with [ɛ] sound like bed, bet, or pet following the previous intructions.

How to pronounce the vowel I in Spanish [i]

Did you know that…

  • a Spaniard will perceive the English [i:] (need) as a Spanis I [i], while
  • an English native perceives Spanish [i] as [ɪ] (it).

It may be because of the writing. Or maybe because of the length of the sound.

If you’re on the coast and you ever hear a Spaniard saying “hey, do you know whether there’s a bitch nearby?”, don’t pout. The Spaniard only fancies diving into the water.

The Spanish I sounds like…

The Spanish [i] has a very similar sound to Australian and American [i:] (need, eat). Similar, not the same.

Note: According to the International Pronunciation Alphabet (IPA) chart, English double E in beet and Spanish [i] (vivir) sound the same. But they don’t.

(The letters and symbols of the IPA represent very similar sounds -sometimes the exact ones, sometimes not, like happens with the Spanish B or Spanish D).

How to produce the sound of Spanish I [i]

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Closed
  • Lips: Unrounded
  • Tongue: Front
Tricks and tips pronunciation of Spanish I letter vowel sound

The sound [i] is half blue half orange. This is because it represents English and Spanish /i/, although their sound is slightly different.

Differences with [i:]

The Spanish [i] sounds more similar to [i:] (need)  than to [ɪ] (it). In every English dialect. The difference is that the sound of Spanish I [i] is:

  • Shorter.
  • Deeper – English [i:] sounds a little more acute.

English [i:]

(need, eat)

Spanish I [i]

(sí, fin)

English [ɪ]

(it, big)

LipsA lot of tension on the corners of your mouth -which are very separated.Tension on the corners of your mouth -they’re separated (as if you were gently smiling).

Little tension on the corners of your mouth.

(British [ɪ] has a stronger touch of /e/).

Tongue (closer to the…)TeethTeeth

Centre of the mouth



Say “happy tea”, firt normally (in English) and then try to pronounce those words shortly and with a serious voice (the Spanish I).

Now pronounce the words “sheet” and “shit” with the Spanish I. You should hear a new word which isn’t any of the 2 previuous ones. If you don’t, then you aren’t getting the Spanish I [i].

How to pronounce the vowel O in Spanish [o]

This is one of the most difficult vowels, not because of the pronunciation but because the letter O sounds mostly like a diphthong in English. This is a common error when pronouncing Spanish O.

My teachers used to say that the letter O in “photo” sounds like Spanish [o].


The Spanish O sounds like…

[o] in Spanish sounds like “oa” in Yorkshire English (goat, coat).

How to produce the sound of Spanish O [o]

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Mid-open
  • Lips: Rounded
  • Tongue: Back
Tips for pronouncing the Spanish O letter vowel tricks for English native speakers

Differences with [ʌ] and [ɔ:]

The sound of the Spanish O [o] is close to American [ʌ] (money) but to produce the Spanish O [o]:

  • Your lips should be rounded.
  • Your mouth (jaw) should be more closed.
  • Spanish O doesn’t have that touch of /a/.

[o] is very like [ɔ:] (law) too but when you pronounce Spanish O [o]:

  • Your jaw is more closed.
  • It doesn’t have that touch of /a/.
  • It isn’t so deep –the sound is produced in the mouth, not in the throat.

English [ɔ:]

(law, fork)

Spanish O [o]

(lo, mono)

English [ʌ]

(money, cut)



The sound is…Mixed with /a/


Mixed with /a/

How to pronounce the vowel U in Spanish [u]

Some people have a similar problem with the Spanish I and the Spanish U:

  • Spanish natives may hear [ʊ] (book) like a Spanish U.
  • English natives could perceive the Spanish U as an English [u:] (boot).

The Spanish U [u] sounds like…

Again, teachers/books/blogs say it sounds the same as double O (boot). But in what dialect?

There are tons of English accents and dialects so we need to be more precise.

The Spanish U [u] sounds similar to American [u:] (goose).

How to produce the sound of Spanish U

Mouth position

  • Jaw: Closed
  • Lips: Rounded
  • Tongue: Back

Remember: The letters and symbols of the IPA represent similar sounds, but sometimes they don’t match. Like in this case.

According to the IPA chart, English [u:] (as in look) and Spanish U [u] (as in ) sound the same. But they don’t.

Differences with [u:] and [ʊ]

The most similar sound of these 2 is [u:] but:

  • Your tongue should be further back.
  • The sound of the Spanish U [u] is shorter, drier.

The Spanish U [u] sounds a little like [ʊ] (book) as well but when you pronounce the Spanish U:

  • Your lips are more rounded.
  • Your tongue has more tension – it’s further back.
  • You say it stronger and shorter – as if you were serious.

English [ʊ]

(book, do)

English [u:]

(foot, goose)

Spanish U [u]

(tú, su)



Towards your throat


Further back than



Further back than 

English [u:]

LipsLittle roundedVery rounded

Very rounded

In short

Almost half of the sounds we pronounce in Spanish are vowels so it’s important to pronounce them correctly.

Even if some English and Spanish vowel sounds seem similar, they’re always pronounced in a different way: Spanish vowels are pure while most of the English vowels are a mix of 2 or more pure vowel sounds. 

In this video, Superholly talks about the Spanish and English vowels and, at the end, you can hear Holly rapping a piece of “Efectos vocales” (the rap song I told you at the beginning of the post).

I’m impressed.

She does extraordinarily well! (I’m a Spanish native and I think I’d have to try at least 56852 times to get it right).

Learn how to say the vowels in Spanish, and your accent will be almost twice better.

Still want to know more about Spanish vowels?

Here are some tips for avoiding common errors
Here are 6 differences between English and Spanish vowels.

Something else? Take a look at the Spanish Alphabet: 33 sounds of Spanish and how to pronounce them.

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.