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Why It’s Important to Learn Proper Pronunciation
If you’re not convinced that pronunciation is important, here are a few reasons why you might want to reconsider:
Spanish is considered a pretty easy language to learn, and you’ll be able to start communicating after learning just a few words and constructions. When someone asks you to repeat yourself, it usually isn’t because you used the wrong grammatical structure. More often than not, it’s because of poor pronunciation! Good Spanish pronunciation will help native speakers to better understand you. Sometimes it’s not a big issue… However, sometimes misunderstandings can be embarrassing – especially in touchy situations.
Someone who knows the rules of Spanish grammar and conjugation perfectly but has bad pronunciation will inevitably give the impression of having a poor level of Spanish. Furthermore, not knowing proper pronunciation, and letting that stop you from speaking, is a real obstacle to your progress.
However, someone who has little knowledge of grammar, but has a decent accent and knows the Spanish alphabet and its pronunciation, will nonetheless get better at grammar and conjugation through conversation. In everyday life, Spanish pronunciation is more important than nuanced grammar, conjugation, or overall knowledge of the language. It allows you to speak more fluidly and more naturally.
When you don’t know the correct pronunciation of a word, you are more likely to hold back and stick to words you do know. But you won’t make any progress if you never take any risks! So, knowing how a particular letter or combination of letters in the Spanish alphabet is supposed to sound—and being able to make educated guesses about how new words are pronounced—will boost your confidence. You’ll see! When you know the sounds and the art of intermingling them, you will enjoy speaking Spanish and communicating. You will want to move on and learn more about the language.
Where to Start: The Spanish Alphabet
You might think that Spanish pronunciation is complicated, but, unlike in English for example, there are no exceptions. And there are no tricky silent letters! (Okay, except “h,” but that’s really it.)
Pronunciation of the Spanish Alphabet
The first thing to study when it comes to pronunciation is, of course, the Spanish alphabet. It is slightly different from the English alphabet because it contains the characters CH, LL, and Ñ in addition to the 26 letters you already know. Another thing: the letter W is not normally part of the Spanish alphabet in pronunciation. It is however used in certain words, mostly of foreign origin.
The Spanish alphabet and the names of the letters in Spanish
|Spanish Letter||Letter Pronunciation||Audio|
|I||[i*] or [i latina]|
|V||[uve*], [ve], [ve corta]|
|W||[uve doble* (ES)], [u doble (LA)], [doble ve]|
|Y||[ye*] or [i griega]|
A funny thing about Spanish pronunciation is that some foreign words have been “Hispanicized.” For example, “güisqui,” which means… whiskey! But this is not the most common word, and probably not one that you’ll use every day. All this is to say that the link between pronunciation and spelling is very strong in Spanish. And that’s a great thing for us learners!
Simplify the task by only focusing on the letters that differ from English pronunciation. Did you know that there’s a lesson in your MosaLingua Learn Spanish app that’s all about the alphabet? It even lists the letters that are pronounced differently in English. (To find it, head over to the Explore tab in your app, then go to Lessons, and Spanish Pronunciation.) Plus, there are special flashcards to help you learn them. With your app’s spaced repetition system, you’ll have them down in no time!
To learn the new sounds that are specific to Spanish, phonetics can be very helpful. When you learn using phonetics, you focus on the sound created by a letter, instead of on how the letter is pronounced in the alphabet. The International Phonetic Alphabet is a great tool, whether you want to learn the pronunciation of Spanish or any other language.
To learn the sounds that aren’t the same as their English counterparts, take a look at this table. Click the word or sound in the second column to hear how it is pronounced in Spanish.
Phonetics for sounds that are different in Spanish and English
|A||/a/ – pronounced like the a in the English word father|
|E||/e/ – pronounced like the e in the English word set|
|I||/i/ – pronounced like the English ee, as in sheep|
|U||/u/ – pronounced like the English oo, as in shoot|
|Y||/ɟʝ/ or /i/ – most often similar to an English y, as in the word yo. It can also be pronounced like the Spanish letter i (see above), like in the Spanish word y|
|C||/s/ or /θ/ or /k/ – pronounced like an English s (Latin America) or th (Spain) as in ceviche
or like an English k, as in casa
|CH||/tʃ/ – pronounced like the English ch, as in ceviche|
|G||/ɡ/ or /ɣ/ – like the English g when it is the first letter, as in gato
or a similar sound but where your tongue does not touch the roof of your mouth, as in amigo
|J||/x/ – comes from the back of the throat, somewhat similar to an English h, as in jardín|
|LL||/ʎ/ – pronounced like English y, as in pollo|
|Ñ||/ɲ/ – this has no real equivalent in English; it’s like an n and a y together, like in mañana|
|R||/ɾ/ – simple r, like in pero|
|RR||/r/ – trilled or rolled r as in perro|
|V||/β/ – pronounced between an English b and v, like in vaso|
|X||/ʃ/ – sometimes pronounced kse like in extranjero, or like the English h, as in México|
|Z||/θ/ similar to English th (Spain) or s (Latin America), as in azul|
Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive. Phonetics is a fascinating subject, one that can’t be covered in a short list like this one. That said, there are way fewer sounds in Spanish than in English, so if you want to learn them all, you can.
How to Look for Patterns
Patterns are groups of sounds that come up often, and that are written differently yet pronounced the same way. To give you an example, in English, -tion and -ssion are often pronounced the same way. That’s a pattern. Knowing these similar sounds in the Spanish language will save you time learning Spanish pronunciation. Here’s an example in Spanish (it might look familiar…): -cíon and -síon. Easy, right?
Accent and Intonation
Accents can refer either to regional accents or grammatical accents in the language itself. Both play an essential role in the pronunciation of a language – particularly in Spanish. Accents and intonation give a language its rhythm. Once you’ve learned the Spanish alphabet and its pronunciation, the next big step is to focus on accents.
Which Spanish Accent Should You Learn?
That’s right – there are many different Spanish accents! Spanish is a very rich language in terms of pronunciation and accents. When you start learning Spanish pronunciation, you’ll begin to hear the differences between the various Spanish accents.
You can also watch Mirari’s video about some of the different Spanish accents right here or on YouTube.
What are the main differences between the many Spanish accents?
Spanish is an official language in 21 countries around the world. Pronunciation and even vocabulary can vary from country to country—sometimes slightly, other times significantly. Sometimes there are even different accents in different regions of the same Spanish-speaking country. For example, it’s important to know that:
- in Argentina, the double LL is pronounced “ch“
- in Mexico, the S sound is closer to a Z than to the S from Spain
- and in Cuba, the R sounds a bit like an exhaled (aspirated) H
Interested in learning more about this topic? If so, check out this article where we highlight the main differences between a few popular Spanish accents. And you can also hear them in this funny video of Joanna imitating some different Spanish accents:
How to choose the right Spanish accent for you
Now you know that there are many Spanish accents out there. The next important question you need to ask yourself is: which accent do you want to learn?
Here’s a tip to help you decide. You may want to connect an accent to a country.
For example, if you’re planning on traveling to Argentina for a few months, it would make sense to learn more about the Argentinian accent and make note of any pronunciation differences that are specific to that country.
Looking to lock down a new job in Madrid? Focus on the accent from Spain.
Would you like your Peruvian friend to be your conversation partner? Try to copy their accent!
And don’t worry, even if you choose the “wrong” accent for your purposes, it shouldn’t prevent you from being understood.
If there isn’t a specific country tied to your reasons for learning Spanish, learn the basics of a more neutral version of Spanish that will allow people from all over the Spanish-speaking world to understand you. As you continue to meet new people, travel, complete language courses, watch movies, and listen to music, you’ll become more and more aware of interesting pronunciation differences.
Word Stress in Spanish
Beyond the accents specific to each country, and even to each region, the Spanish language has other accents. We’re referring to the accentuation of words and the tonic accent (that is, the pitch of syllables in a word).
When you learn Spanish by learning words and phrases, acquiring a good accent is done naturally. It’s therefore very important to repeat the word as you hear it, both in terms of pronunciation and intonation.
These tonic accents make it possible to give rhythm to the language, and the words in a sentence. If you change the tonic accent in a word or phrase, you can change the meaning. Therefore, there are some rules to respect and you’ll have to pay attention to them when speaking Spanish.
3 Rules to know and follow!
- Words that end in a vowel (a, e, i, o, u), s, or n have the tonic accent on the penultimate (second to last) syllable. In other words, you give more importance to the penultimate syllable when you say for example iglesia, joven, or mano. There are exceptions of course. But for all exceptions, the accent is noted! Easy.
- Words that end in a consonant other than n or s have a tonic accent on the last syllable. In other words, you give greater importance to the last syllable when you say, for example: animal. (in comparison, in English the first syllable is stressed). Likewise, when there are exceptions, the accent is written.
- And to simplify your task, words that do not fit into one of those two categories have an accent on the vowel of the syllable you should stress. As in árbol, jardín, or atención.
Note: the placement of the tonic accent does not change when the word is plural! Take the example of joven (young) which becomes jóvenes in the plural. The accent stays in the same place. Another thing to note is that, generally, words ending with -ión emphasize the o.
Common Errors in Spanish Pronunciation
There are a few frequent errors that English speakers make in Spanish. For example:
Let’s be honest, if you’re not used to rolling your r’s, it can be one of the more challenging aspects of speaking Spanish. It’s a sound that just doesn’t exist in English! The English r is pronounced towards the back of the mouth, with almost no involvement from the tongue — therefore almost the opposite of the Spanish r! But it’s worth the effort: a properly rolled r will immediately improve your Spanish pronunciation. This is especially important, as the meaning of the word can change based on how r is pronounced: the word pero (normal r) means “but, except,” while the word perro (rolled r) means “dog.”
To help you learn to roll your r‘s, you can watch this video from Mirari, our Spanish professor. She gives you some good tips and tricks to get the job done! You can turn on English subtitles by clicking on the Settings icon at the bottom right.
By the way, have you already subscribed to our YouTube channel? If you liked this video, check out our channel for more language tutorials, hacks, tips, facts, and more!
But really, it all boils down to practice, practice, practice. Listen to as many native speakers pronouncing rolled r‘s as possible, and imitate them as often as you can. The most important thing to remember for rolling your r’s is to put the tip of your tongue just behind your teeth, near your palate (roof of your mouth), as if you were going to pronounce the d sound. Once it’s in place, push out the air in your lungs… and rrrrrrrroll!
In English, s can be pronounced ss as in smart, or like a z as in runs, while a z is always pronounced as such. In Spanish, z is pronounced like ss, as in Cádiz, when it’s placed at the end of a word or before the letters a, o, and u. Actually, its pronunciation is somewhere between ss and th.
Finally, this one gives English speakers trouble in Spanish… and Spanish speakers trouble in English! You may have noticed that native Spanish speakers often confuse v and b in English — well, English speakers make a similar mistake. The proper pronunciation of v is very closer to b, but differs in that there’s no “explosive” sound — instead, it’s pronounced like a b with your lips kept open, rather than starting with them closed. It’s quite different therefore from our v, which is pronounced with the upper teeth against the lower lip.
There are a couple of words that non-native speakers often get wrong. To give you an idea of the traps to look out for, Mirari came up with 10 Spanish words that you’re probably pronouncing wrong. Have a look!
The Best Resources for Improving Your Spanish Pronunciation
So, now that you know the basics of Spanish pronunciation, here are some essential resources for helping you to make quick progress!
How to Improve Your Spanish Pronunciation
Your MosaLingua app
MosaLingua’s suite of apps has been designed and developed to help you learn the most important vocabulary and phrases necessary to understand and speak Spanish. Our apps for learning Spanish and Business Spanish are rich in vocabulary and feature lots of listening and pronunciation exercises.
- MosaLingua recordings: all the words and phrases available on MosaLingua apps (more than 3500 cards) have been recorded by native speakers to help you learn proper pronunciation. Listen to them, familiarize your ear, and then repeat.
- The dialogues: you will also find rich dialogues, inspired by everyday life, to help familiarize you with the right accent, intonation, and pronunciation of the Spanish language. Our MosaLingua apps to learn Spanish offer 17+ dialogues from common situations.
- The hands-free mode: a pair of headphones and your MosaLingua app for learning Spanish is all you need to work on your pronunciation! Hands-free mode lets you review all previously learned cards, just by listening to them. You can review your vocabulary and improve your Spanish pronunciation, all without lifting a finger 🙂
Find all of our resources to learn Spanish!
Dictionaries and other online pronunciation sites with audio clips
- Rhinospike: With this site, you can get words, sentences or entire passages of text read out loud by a native speaker. It’s entirely free and based on the principles of language exchange — so it only works if everybody contributes! To get the right pronunciation, you just have to ask, and in exchange, you can read a text or a sentence in English to help someone else.
- Forvo: This site is a database of words and sounds, in tons of languages, and recorded by native speakers as well. That makes this site a great tool for when you find a word whose pronunciation you don’t know. Type it into the Forvo search bar, select the right word, and listen to its pronunciation in Spanish. Repeat the word as many times as it takes to get a similar pronunciation.
- Google Translate: This is not the best option. Unlike Forvo and MosaLingua, where the words are recorded by natives, Google Translate pronunciation is artificial and very robotic. But in a pinch, it can give you an idea of the correct pronunciation.
For this type of exercise, don’t hesitate to record yourself (with your smartphone or computer) to compare your pronunciation with that of native speakers.
Improving your comprehension
- Watching movies and series… Who said that learning pronunciation has to be long and boring!
Watching the original version of a Spanish film, for example, is a fun and effective way to learn Spanish pronunciation. So, to practice: check out these lists of films in Spanish and Spanish TV series. As they are shorter, series have the ideal format for you to review things regularly (1 episode per day, and voila).
- Or by listening to music. Yep, just like movies and series, listening to Spanish music is a great way to increase your vocabulary while getting your ear accustomed to proper Spanish pronunciation. Once again, we’ve put together a selection of Spanish music to improve your pronunciation.
- Other audio help: podcasts. With podcasts, you can listen to native Spanish speakers talk about all kinds of different subjects. Because it’s spoken rather than sung, the pronunciation is a little easier to understand. Just find a podcast with a topic that interests you, and you can relax and improve your listening and pronunciation. Check out our selection of the best podcasts in Spanish.
You can find more tips and advice in this guide to learning Spanish quickly!
Practice Your Spanish Pronunciation and Get It Corrected
Practicing your spoken Spanish is the best way to improve your pronunciation. So, of course, you can practice and train yourself at home.
But as soon as you can, it’s important to start practicing with someone who can correct you. When practicing self-talk, you’re probably making a lot of pronunciation errors without realizing it. If you don’t know what you’re doing wrong, it won’t help you in the long run.
How do you find someone to practice speaking a language with? You can easily find a professional or private tutor on the Internet who will help you practice. However, at MosaLingua, we strongly believe in free language exchanges, based on mutual aid.
Language Exchange Sites to Help Your Spanish Pronunciation
The idea is to meet a conversation partner on a language exchange site who speaks Spanish and whom you can talk to. You’ll spend half your time speaking in Spanish, and half your time speaking in English — this way, you both can improve! And don’t worry about making mistakes… because your conversation partner will be in the same boat.
The idea of these linguistic exchanges really rests on the principle of mutual aid. Whenever you have a question about Spanish, your partner will be there to correct you if necessary, and you will end up with good Spanish pronunciation. Similarly, you will be there to teach English pronunciation to your partner. Easy and fun!
Check out the best language exchange sites and find a Spanish-speaking language partner today!
Tips to Help Your Spanish Pronunciation Before You Start Speaking!
Before you start having conversations, here are some simple tips to improve your general pronunciation.
- Stretch your jaw well before you work
- Look in a mirror during pronunciation exercises (you will laugh at the beginning, no doubt… but don’t worry, that’ll pass!)
- Speak loudly and slowly
- Don’t hesitate to exaggerate your pronunciation
- Repeat the same word several times, slightly spaced out (to ensure your words don’t get muddled)
- By practicing regularly with small exercises of around 5 minutes each, you’ll see that you can improve your Spanish pronunciation very quickly.
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I am a beginner to spanish.
Welcome, Frank! We have many articles about learning Spanish, so feel free to have a look around 🙂