The Ultimate Guide to Spanish Pronunciation


July 25, 2019

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Perhaps you're looking to learn Spanish so that you can do some traveling, or maybe you just want to impress your new good-looking Spanish co-worker (don't worry – we won't tell anyone). Whatever the  reason is, you've come to the right place.  

Even if you've been binge-watching “Narcos” and imitating all of the Spanish that you hear, it's likely that to a native speaker you still sound like a gringo.  

For those of you who were thinking "gringo" is a character from Sesame Street, it is actually a term used  in Spanish-speaking countries to describe English-speaking foreigners, mainly North Americans. But don't  worry! If you follow this simple guide, we will help you shed the gringo name.

Spanish pronunciation

Spanish is a fairly easy language, considering that most Spanish words are pronounced exactly the way  they are spelled. It's not like English where we have some of the most absurd pronunciations. I mean,  who decided that “pony” and “bologna” should rhyme?!  

That being said, there are some tips and tricks that will have you sounding like a local in no time. So sit back,  grab a cerveza (pronounced ser-bay-tha) and let us be your guide. We will be like Gandalf, and Spanish  pronunciation will be your Middle Earth. 

Don't Stress About the Stress: 

Something about the Spanish language that is much more important than I realized when I started  learning, is which syllable you stress. I remember getting into a cab in Spain and getting nervous when  the cabbie didn't have a clue which street I was telling him to go to.  

When I showed him the street name on my phone, I watched the light bulb go on above his head. He was  quick to correct me and say that I had stressed the wrong syllable – and that small mistake had  prevented him from understanding me at all. 

But don't stress about the stress! There are some simple rules  that you can memorize so that you always know which syllable you need to stress. So print this out,  laminate it, bring it into the shower with you. Whatever you need to do to make sure that this is ingrained  in your mind. We don't judge here.

Some general rules to follow:  

  1.  If a word ends in a vowel, “n,” or “s,” you need to stress the syllable that is next to the last one.  

Por ejemplo (for example):

  • Cuenta (the bill at a restaurant) is pronounced KWEN-tah.
  • Examen (test/exam) is pronounced Ex-AH-men
  • Dios (God) is pronounced DEE-ohs 
  1. Words that end in a consonant (other than “n” or “s” of course) are stressed on the last syllable.

Por ejemplo: Comer (to eat) is pronounced Koh-MEHR 

  1. When there is an accent above a letter you must stress that syllable. Imagine that the accent is like that  one attention-seeking friend we all have, and it's saying "Hey, stress me! I'm IMPORTANT!"

Por ejemplo: Próximo (next) is pronounced PROHK-see-moh.   

See, that was easy. Feeling a little less stressed now? Yes, as calm as a hippy in a commune. Now  before you start growing out your hair and exclusively wearing hemp clothing, let's move on to vowels! 

You can also watch our video about the Spanish alphabet below to hear the correct pronunciation.

Can I Buy a Vowel?  

Once you know what sounds the vowels make when speaking Spanish, you're pretty well in the clear  because they very seldom change. That's great for you learners out there because it means that you only  need to memorize this guide below.  

Then if you're sounding out a word and you use these vowel pronunciations, there is about a 99.5%* chance you've got it right! And those are odds we'd take to Vegas, baby! 

*Rough estimate. Very rough. But you get the point.

VowelPronunciation GuideExampleWhat the Example Means
Ais pronounced "ah" like “father”abajodown/downstairs
Eis pronounced "eh" like “rent”antesbefore
Iis pronounced "ee" like “free”amigofriend
Ois pronounced "oh" like “flow”besokiss
Uis pronounced "oo" like “loose”nube (noob-ay)cloud
AI/AYis pronounced "y" like “fly”bailar /hay (eye)dance / there is
AUis pronounced "ow" like “how”aunquealthough
EIis pronounced "ay" like “day”aceiteoil
IEis pronounced "yeh" like “yes”bienfine
UEis pronounced "weh" like “well”cuelloneck/collar

The (Usually) Constant Consonants

Most of the consonants in Spanish are pronounced the same way as English. However, there are some  that are different, and they can seem a little intimidating at first. No worries though, we've gone ahead and  listed all of the ones that vary from English below. That way, instead of having to spend the time  looking them up elsewhere, you can focus on more important things – like baking a birthday cake for your cat.

ConsonantPronunciation GuideExampleWhat the Example Means
C (before 'e',' i')is pronounced 'th' like thanksGracias/CenaThank you/Dinner
C (before 'a','o','u')is pronounced 'k' like cornerCasa/Con/CuandoHouse/With/When
CCis pronounced 'k' then 'th'DireccionHouse/With/When
D (between vowels)Is pronounced ‘th’ like theCadaEach
G (before 'a','o','u')is pronounced hard 'g' like grapeGrisGrey
G (before 'e','i') is pronounced a breathy 'h' like hiGente(Hehn-tay)People
His not pronounced. Always silent.Hay (Eye)There is
Jis pronounced a breathy 'h' like hotJamónHam
Lis pronounced like ‘l’ in loveLibreFree
LLis pronounced 'y' like yellowLlamarTo call
Ñ is pronounced 'ny' like canyonMañanaTomorrow
QUis pronounced 'k' like keep Queso(Kay-soh)Cheese
Ris rolled only oncePero (pare-oh)But
RRIs rolled twicePerro (pare-roh)Dog
Vis pronounced 'b' like beer Vale (Ball-ay) Okay
Xis pronounced 'cs' like exitExtranjeroForeign
Y is pronounced like English 'y' in yard, except when by itself---it is pronounced 'ee'Ya(Yah)/Y(Ee)Already/And
Zis pronounced 'th' like that ZumoJuice

*The letter "" is pronounced the same way as "B" in Spanish – like "B" in “bad.” This makes it  difficult for my little Spanish host kids when trying to sound out words in their writing. 

To further explain that tricky “CC” listed above, the example word ”direccion” is pronounced like dee-rek-thee-on. So the first “C” behaves just like we have come to know and love, and the second is pronounced  like "th".

When you pronounce the letter "J" you should almost sound like someone who has smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for the past 25 years, and you're trying to clear your throat. Like, you know that scene in “Titanic” where Jack is showing Rose how to "spit like a man," and he's hacking up something awful? Yeah, you should sound like that. If it doesn't almost hurt your throat, you're not doing it right.

¿What's With the Upside Down Quotation Marks?

You know how when you're reading something in English you generally know (I say "generally" because English is  weird and there are always exceptions – eye roll) that it's a question before you get to the question  mark at the end because of the word at the beginning? Por ejemplo: "Do you want something?"

I'm assuming that when reading that question, you put an upward inflection on it. That's because the word  "do" tipped you off that it was a question and not a statement. Well, in Spanish they don't do that. Let me  show you what I mean. 

"Tu quieres algo." / "¿Tu quieres algo?" 

The first is a statement. "You want something." The second is a question. "Do you want something?" But  the only way to tell the difference is by the punctuation. So if you were reading the question, and there  was no question mark doing a handstand at the beginning of it, you wouldn't know that it was a question  until you got to the end. 

The same goes for when you're speaking. It's super important to make sure that when asking a question,  the inflection of your voice goes up. It has to be clearly different than the inflection that you use when  making a statement. If not, you could end up saying something different than what you intended, and it  could be a little embarrassing. Yes, I did have an embarrassing experience with this. No, I'm not going to  tell you about it.  

Hopefully this guide has helped you navigate through all of the pronunciation confusion. If not, take  another big swig of that cerveza we opened at the beginning and have another look. I always find my  Spanish to be better after a few drinks.

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Spanish pronunciation guide rules in stress

About the author 

Nicole Dovak is a 20-something Canadian writer who moved to Spain in September 2015. Living with a Spanish host family for one year allowed her to gain insights into Spanish culture and language (and not to mention tons of yummy Spanish food).

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