Pronunciation tips for Spanish beginners: Consonants

Here are the key sounds in Spanish to watch out for, helping you sound like a native-speaker. Part of learning a language is obviously learning new vocabulary, but if you don’t pronounce the words correctly you may not be understood.

B and V:

In Spanish, a “b” and “v” are the same sound. They are both pronounced like an English “b”. So, for example, when you say the word for “wine”, “vino” you should really pronounce it “bino”. See more about this sound in the previous post: “Spanish Pronunciation of B and V”.

C

The “c” in Spanish is usually pronounced as the “c” in “car”: “coche”, “acabar”, “caminar”.

However, when the “c” comes before an “e” or an “i” it changes sound. In most of Spain, a “ce” and a “ci” is pronounced as a “th” sound:

“gracias” (thank you) is pronounced as “grathias”.

“La cena” (dinner) is pronounced as “la thena”.

In southern Spain such as Andalucía and parts of South America it is pronounced as an “s”: “Grasias”

D

The “d” has a hard and a soft sound. It is pronounced as a hard “d” like in the word “doctor” when a word begins with “d” or if it comes after “n” or “l”. The only difference is that the tongue touches the back of the front teeth. The soft “d” is used when a word ends in a “d” or it comes between vowels. In this case it is pronounced like a “th”. E.g. “Madrid” is pronounced “Madrith”.

G

“g” is pronounced as in English “get”: “gustar”, “galletas”, “gordo”.

However, like with a “c”, when it comes before an “e” or an “i”, it has a softer sound, like the Spanish “j” sound, which is almost an English “h”: “gente” (people) sounds like hente”.

H

The “h” in Spanish is never pronounced. It is a silent letter. So, to say “hello”“hola” you just say “ola”. Or “hotel” is “otel”. This is the case wherever the “h” is in a word.

J

The “j” is pronounced as almost an “h” sound. The noise is made in the back of your throat and is often compared with the “ch” sound in the Scottish word “loch” or the German word “Bach”.

ll

The “ll” sound causes problems for learners of Spanish because it varies according to the country or even the region. You may hear people pronouncing it differently even within the same country.

Some people pronounce it as a “y” sound as in yellow”:
“Me llamo” (I am called) could be pronounced as “Me yamo”.

It could also be pronounced as a “lli” sound as in “million”: “Me lliamo”.

Some people pronounce “ll” like the “s” sound in “measure”, known as the “zh” sound, “Me zhamo”.

In Argentina especially some people pronounce it as the “g” sound as in “wage” or even “sh”: “Me shamo”.

However, wherever you are in the Spanish-speaking world you will always be understood if you use the “y” sound for “ll”.

Z

In Spain “z” is a “th” sound, e.g. Zaragoza = Tharagotha”. However in Latin America it is an “s” sound.

If you can master these sounds, you will be well on your way to sounding like a native speaker!

 
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