The Sounds of Spanish.

Now, we are going to learn a little bit of Spanish. I had a lil’ red book planned for years, so I may as well begin. Today’s lesson comprises phonetics, and introduces a couple of new characters. I have tried to make it as short as possible.

The Sounds of Spanish.

The Spanish language is highly phonetic and books written in it can be easily sound, right from inside the pages, once one has the tools for it. So, how do you fish these words?; the first thing to do is to realise that Spanish has way fewer sounds than English, and that you know now, as is, a great chunk of them already. You just have to find and select your cast. Others, like the R or the Ñ, will need for you to collect them by ear. And thus we play:

Of the vowels.

Of the vowels, we have five, a, e, i, o, u; five and y, which is, like in English, another i. This vowels have each only one sound.

A.

A is the same a found in fancy, or anchor, in British E., or Casablanca, or attaboy in America. An open, or Italian a.

E.

E is short, as in then, in American. Echo, west, ethnic, etc. Most e’s in British English are slightly obscurer, but work fine.

I.

I is easy. Wee, eat, mean, cheese.

O.

O is short, but naught the one in ominous, or ocean. It’s the au sound in auburn, audacious, audio, auk, auld, autumn, and naughty.

U.

U is the u in noodle. Boo, cool, etc.

Of the consonants.

The consonants are: b, c, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, ñ, p, q, r, s, t, v, w, x, y, z. The same that in English, with the addition of the ñ. Sometimes Ch, ll, and rr are considered consonants.

B.

B is very similar, and it’s never mute. It is indistinguishable from v, so that many words become homophones. Baya (berry), vaya (that he go), and valla (fence) are pronounced the same. Between vowels it has a lazier sound that you’ll pick up easily. Baba (drool), bobo (silly, booby bird).

C.

C is the equivalent and mostly the representative of the sound of the k. Same that in English. It sounds like s before e and i. Cama, celebración, cien, coco, cuco. To get the ke and ki sounds q is used, but more of it later. When combined with h has the ch sound found in Churchill.

D.

D has two sounds. In the beginning of words is similar to English, but closer to the teeth. Dodo, don, dos. But between vowels it takes the sound found in the, or that, or then. Nada is pronounced ‘naða.’ Danza, nudo, dinosaurio, donde, durazno 

F.

No differences. Fantasma, festival, fiesta, fotosíntesis, fuego. Fuegos fatuos (will-o’-wisp).

G.

G sounds like the g in gum, goo, and goblin. Except before e and i. Ga, gue, gui, go, gu. Otherwise, it takes the sound of h in English, or j in Spanish. Generoso, gelatina, gigante. And, another thing, to sound the u in words like pingüino, or, güero, you need that little dieresis on top.

H.

Mute, its use is merely ornamental. In words like huevo (egg), makes the u sound like the w in English. Hueso, horrible, hilo, harto, huitlacoche.

J.

Stronger than the h in English. Jajaja. Jazmín, jerga, jícama, jolgorio, jugo.

K.

Almost never used outside of borrowed words. Kilo, kayak, koala, kabuki.

L.

Only one sound, it is a relative of the English l, but it touches the teeth. Lava, lejos, lima, lobo, luz. When doubled, the ll sounds like the y in yes, but more vibrating. This ll and y sounds are indistinguishable from each other in Mexican Spanish. Llave, llegada, lloradera, llama, lluvia,

M.

Like the m in mambo. Uh. Mamá, metro, migaja, mosco, muchacha.

N.

Same that in English. Never, nah. It sounds like m before p, b, f and v. Un beso (a kiss) is pronounced umbeso. It is also nasal before g, j, the sound of k, w and hu. Anchor and banca (bench) share the same η. Nalga, necesidad, nido, noche, nube. ¿Me pasas un vaso (umbaso)? Would you pass me a glass, please?

Ñ.

Ñ is a very common sound in our language. It can roughly be understood as a ny sound. But its real nasal quality can be better learnt by ear. Español, cañon, piñata, niño, ñango, piña, ñu.

P.

Pardon, but there is no difference between potato and Pope in Spanish. Papa, pelo, piso, paso, pobre, puente.

Q.

Q and u are a team. It represents ke, and ki, and is very frequent. Quiero, queso, que, quema.

R.

I had to make some research for this one. If you are Scottish, you have the strong snarling sound down already.  In the beginning of words or after l, n, or s, it is a strong, purring rr. Rana, reno, roto, pronto. Sonrisa.

When not in the beginning, the r is very similar to the British one when voiced, like in narrow. Americans have this r in better, bitter, butter when pronounced laxly. Mascara, perezoso, querida, caro, férula. Raro (strange) has both.

S.

Hissing sound, sister. Sapo, sope, salsa, sonido, susurrar, serpiente. There is no difference between this s and the z in Mexican Spanish.

T.

Relative of the t in English, but it touches the teeth. Tamarindo, tambor, timba, tonto, interesante, turbante.

V.

Same as b. Vacaciones, Venecia, vino, volado, verdad.  

W.

Found in borrowed words and in some modern expressions.  Irregular. Wombat, wasabi, whisky, Waterloo, Wash and Wear, Wilfredo.

X.

Complex consonant in Mexican Spanish. Three values (and some exceptions). It mainly takes the ks sound of taxi. Extra, auxilio, taxidermista.

Also, the sound of the j in Spanish. Mexico, Xalapa. Some old words used to be written with it: Quijote and ajolote, used to be Quixote and axolote.

A very rare sound, some words of original tongues are pronounced with the sh sound. Xoloitzcuintle, xoconostle.

An even stranger variation, some words have an s sound. Xochimilco, xilófono.

Y.

A word in itself, the y is the conjunction and. It’s a vowel in words like rey or ley. In most instances it is the same as the double l, ll sound. Yo llamé. It was I who called. I called. Ya, yerbero, yoyo, yubarta.

Z.

In Mexican Spanish, same as s and ce, ci. In Spain the th in thief. θ

They are called, respectively, a, be, ce, de, e, efe, ge, hache, i, jota, ka, ele, eme, ene, eñe, o, pe, cu, erre, ese, te, u, uve, doble u, equis, i griega (ye), and zeta.

On sounds in Mexican Spanish.

The Spanish talked in Mexico differs only slightly from the one in Spain. It is richer in indigenous words, simpler in sounds and somehow archaic in words. In fact, if one listens carefully, some phrases and words that can be found in The Quixote are still used today in rural communities. Most of the books I read growing up were printed in Spain, and aside from localisms, all variations of Spanish, when clearly articulated, are intelligible to each other. This variations of Spanish have different pronunciations, though, and although Mexican Spanish is the one mostly used in dubbing, and the one considered ‘neutral’ in Latin-America, this lack of differentiation means were are not good spellers.

Presently a video with the sounds of Spanish will be added.

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