Spanish is phonetic, This means that if you know how to pronounce the letters of a word, its relatively easy to sound out the words.

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Pronunciation Guide

Spanish spelling is very phonetic, with a few exceptions. This means that if you know how to pronounce the letters of a word, it's relatively easy to sound out the word itself.

Vowels

The vowels in Spanish are short crisp sounds. They are not dragged out like the English vowels.

like 'a' in "father"
like 'ay' in "pay" or 'ai' in "hail" when stressed; may take on more of a 'e' in "pet" sound when unstressed
like 'ee' in "see"
like 'o' in "stone"
like 'u' in "rule"
like 'ee' in "see". Very rarely used at the middle or ending of words.

Consonants

like 'b' in "bed" (but no aspiration) at the beginning of a word and after 'm': boca. A soft vibration sound almost like English 'v' elsewhere. See v below.
follows the same pronunciation pattern as in English. In most cases it is pronounced like 'k' in "kid": calle, doctor. When followed by 'e' or 'i', it is like 's' in "supper" (in the Americas, the Canaries and some parts of the Philippines) or 'th' in "thin" (Spain): cine (THEE-nay)
ch 
like 'ch' in "touch": muchacho
like 'd' in "dog": de. In some dialects, a 'd' between two vowels is pronounced with a bit of softness, halfway between the normal 'd' and the 'th' in "the": pasado. You're usually fine just using the 'd' sound.
like 'f' in "fine": faro
when followed by 'e' or 'i', like a throaty 'h' (general = heh-neh-RAHL), otherwise like 'g' in "go" (gato). In the clusters "gue" and "gui", the 'u' serves only to change the sound of the consonant and is silent (guitarra), unless it bears a diaeresis, as in "güe" and "güi" (pedigüeño). In between vowels, it tends to be voiced and not guturral.
gu, gü 
when followed by another vowel, like 'Gw' in Gwen (agua, cigüeña, Camagüey)
silent: hora= OR-ah. Pronounced like a softer 'j' only in foreign words.
like a throaty 'h' in "ha": jamón;
like 'k' in "kid": kilo The letter K is only used in foreign words (kárate, kilo, Kiev, etc.).
like 'l' in "love": lápiz
ll 
like 'y' in "year"; pronounced like a Zh as in 'Zhivago' only in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay: llamar. In at least some parts of Costa Rica and Colombia, pronounced as the English "j" or "g," as in the words "ginger" or "ninja." Also pronounced like 'ly' as in the English word "million" in northern Spain and in the Philippines.
like 'm' in "mother": mano
like 'n' in "nice", and like 'n' in "anchor": noche, ancla
ñ 
like 'ny' in "canyon": cañón, piñata
like 'p' in "pig": perro
like 'q' in "quiche" (always with a silent "u"): queso, pronounced KAY-so
r, rr 
Spanish has two 'r' sounds both of which are different from their counterpart in English. Some effort should be made to approximate each of them, to help listeners distinguish between perro ("dog") and pero("but")... or perhaps to understand you at all:
  • single r: This sound is created by putting the tip of the tongue up against where the front of the roof of the mouth meets the upper teeth, very similar to the action English speakers make to pronounce l or d. To an English-speaking ear, it may sound a bit like a combined "d-r". Take care to pronounce r separately when it follows a consonant; a blended English tr will not be recognized in the Spanish word otro ("other"), which should be pronouced more like "OHT-roh".
  • rolled r: Written "r" at the beginning of the word, or "rr" between vowels (cerro). It's a multiply vibrating sound. Whereas most English speakers can learn to tap out a single r, many adults learning Spanish find this sound impossible to produce; in this case, pronouncing it like a Spanish r or fumbling out a d-r will be better understood than pronouncing it like a long English r.
like 's' in "son": sopa; in Spain, it is often pronounced like a soft, palatised "sh" at the end of a word or syllable.
like 't' in "top": tapa
like 'b' in "bed" (but no aspiration) at the beginning of a word and after 'm': vaca, pronounced BAH-kah. A soft vibration sound almost like English 'v' elsewhere. To distinguish v from b when spelling, one says "vay chica" or "bay grande" to indicate which; native Spanish speakers may not hear the difference between "vee" and "bee". But some Spanish speaking countries do say the 'v' as in "vine" with the teeth on the lower lip.
like 'w' in "weight" in English words, whisky, pronounced "WEESS-kee"). Like 'b' in "bed" in Germanic words.
like 'x' in "flexible" (flexible). Like 'ss' in "hiss" at beginning of a word (xilófono). Like a throaty 'h' in the words México, mexicano, Oaxaca, and oaxaqueño.
like 'y' in "yes": payaso. Like 'y' in "boy": hoy. Pronounced like a Zh ONLY in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay as in 'Zhivago', : yo no sé, pronounced "zhaw naw seh".
like 's' in "supper" (Latin America), like 'th' in "thin" (Spain): zorro. See c above.

Diphthongs

Most diphthongs can be approximated by blending the first vowel into the second in a single syllable.

ai, ay 
like 'eye': baile (BAI-lay)
au 
like 'ow' in "cow": causa (KOW-sah)
ea 
like 'ay-ah': fea (FAY-ah)
ei, ey 
like 'ay' in "say": reina, rey. (RAY-nah)
eu 
like 'eh-oo': euro ("eh-OO-roh")
ia 
like 'ee-ah': piano (pee-AH-noh)
ie 
like 'ee-eh': pie (PEE-eh)
io 
like 'ee-aw': dio (DEE-aw)
iu 
like 'ew' in "few": ciudad (syoo-DAHD)
oi, oy 
like 'oy' in "boy": soy (soy)
ua 
like 'wa' in "wash": cuatro (KWAH-traw)
ue 
like 'we' in "well": puedo (PWAY-daw)
ui, uy 
like 'ooey' in "phooey": ruido (ROOEE-doh)
uo 
like "wo" in "won't": averiguo (ah-beh-REE-gwaw)

Accents and stress

Word stress can affect the meaning of the word and generally follows these rules:

  • If a word is marked with an accent, then that syllable receives the stress.
    • Additionally, if the accent marks a diphthong a syllable break occurs between the two vowels of the diphthong.
  • If a word is NOT marked with an accent, then
  1. if the word ends in a consonant other than N or S, the stress occurs on the last syllable.
  2. if the word ends in a vowel, N or S, the stress occurs on the next to last syllable.
  • In Spain (Except in some parts of Andalusia, and in the Canary Islands) a English ci/ce or z sound makes a English "TH". In Latin America, it makes the "S" sound.

Examples: (1st pronunciation: Spanish; 2nd pronunciation: Latin America; when there is only one, it's common)

círculo (THEER-koo-loh/SEER-koo-loh) → circle
circulo (theer-KOO-loh/seer-KOO-loh) → I circulate
circuló (theer-koo-LOH/seer-koo-LOH) → he/she/it circulated
estás (ehs-TAHS) → you are
estas (EHS-tahs) → these
origen (oh-REE-hehn) → origin
orígenes (oh-REE-hehn-ehs) → origins
ciudad (thee-yoo-DAHD/see-yoo-DAHD) → city
ciudades (thee-you-DAH-dehs/see-yoo-DAH-dehs) → cities

An accent can also be used to differentiate between words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings:

él (he) el (the)
(tea) te (you) (ex: I can't see you)
(you) (ex: you want to go there) tu (your)
(me) mi(my)
(I give or he/she/it give; but in present of subjunctive) de (of)
(yes) si (if)
se (a pronoun; difficult to explain here) (I know or be imperative of the verb "to be", spoken to the second person of singular)
más (more/plus) mas (but)

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