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Pronunciation: Difficult Consonants in spanish

While many of the Spanish consonants have sounds that are similar to those in English, many are distinctly different. In this lesson we will study those consonants. 

Note the differences between the sounds of these consonants and their English counterparts in the following examples. Note also that these pronunciations are a guide only, as there are many subtle variations that can vary with locality.

  • B and V are pronounced exactly the same. In fact, one of the few spelling problems that many Spanish speakers have is with these two letters, because they don't distinguish them at all from their sound. Generally, the b and v are pronounced like the "b" in "beach." When either of the letters is between two vowels, the sound is formed kind of like the English "v," except that the sound is made by touching the lips together instead of the upper teeth and lower lip. Examples: bebé, ambos, vencer.
  • D generally is pronounced somewhat like the "d" in "diet," although often the tongue touches the bottom of the teeth instead of the top. But when d comes between vowels, it has a much softer sound, kind of like the "th" in "that." Examples: derecho, helado, diablo.
  • G is pronounced much like the English "g" in "go," except when it precedes an i or e. In those cases, it is pronounced like the Spanish j. Examples: gordo, gritar, gigante, mágico.
  • H is always silent. Examples: hermano, hacer, deshacer.
  • J (and the g when before an e or i) can be difficult, as its sound, that of the German ch, is absent in English except for a few foreign words where it is sometimes retained, as in the final sound of loch or the initial sound of Channukah. The sound is sometimes described as a heavily aspirated "h," made by expelling air between the back of the tongue and the soft palate. If you can't pronounce it well, you'll be understood by using the "h" sound of "house," but it's worthwhile to work on the correct pronunciation. Examples: garaje, juego, jardín.
  • L is always pronounced like the first "l" in "little," never like the second one. Examples: los, helado, pastel.
  • LL is usually pronounced like the "y" in "yellow." There are some regional variations, however. In parts of Spain it has the sound of the "ll" in "million," and in parts of Argentina it has the "zh" sound of "azure." Examples: llama, calle, Hermosillo.
  • N usually has the sound of the "n" in "nice." If it is followed by a b, v, f or p, it has the sound of "m" in "empathy." Examples: no, en, en vez de, andar.
  • Ñ is pronounced like the "ny" in "canyon." Examples: ñoño, cañón, campaña.
  • R and RR are formed by a flap of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, or a trill. See the R and RR "how to" guides for these letters.
  • X varies in sound, depending on the origin of the word. It is often pronounced like the "x" in "example" or "exit," but it also may be pronounced like the s or the Spanish j. In words of Mayan origin it can even have the English "sh" sound. Examples: éxito, experiencia, México, Xela.
  • Z generally sounds like the "s" in "simple." In Spain it is often pronounced like the "th" in "thin." Examples: zeta, zorro, vez.

Oct 15, 2008 2:52 PM
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Marco A.
Language Skills
English, French, German, Spanish
Learning Language
French, German