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Spanish Consonants: How to Read Spanish Words Like a Native.
Many Spanish consonants are pronounced like their English counterparts.
But, there are some peculiar sounds that cannot be learned from reading books (or websites, for that matter).
You have to listen to a native speaker pronouncing them for you to pick up the subtleties of Spanish pronunciation.
That is not a very difficult in Spanish because this is a phonetic language: you pronounce words pretty much the same way you write them!
... Well, almost. But that's at least the general rule, anyway.
And to make it even easier for you, Spanish letters generally have one single sound. There are exceptions, but not many.
How do Spanish consonants compare to English consonants in terms of pronunciation?
I have included written examples of English words that contain pronunciations that are approximately close to Spanish sounds so that you can tell the difference.
I reckon such comparisons can be a bit misleading. There is no substitute for the actual Spanish sounds as spoken by native speakers.
For instance, in the classic Spanish word Olé, the Spanish vowel sound E has traditionally been described to English speakers as the "a" in the word "father".
But that is only an approximate sound - a representation, if you will - based on the range of English vowel sounds.
I've included them just as a guide or reminder.
You really need to hear its sound to be able to prounce it as it really sounds.
With that in mind, I have included audio-visual tutorials with short exercises for you to repeat what the sounds actually sound like.
Spanish Consonants P, L, M and D
The letter P is pronounced as in the English word "spot", but without the puff of breath.
The letter L also sounds like its English counterpart (as in "like", but with the tip of the tongue against the gums of the upper teeth.
The letter M sounds the same as in English.
The letter D sounds like in English at the beginning of a sentence, or breath group, and after the letter L or N, but with the tip of the tongue against the upper theeth.
Otherwise, as English "th" in the word "father".
Spanish Consonants: T, C, S and N
The letter T sounds like its English counterpart, but more softly, with the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth rather than the gums.
The letter C sounds like the English C in Cat before the vowels a, o, u, and before a consonant.
But before the vowels e and i, the letter C is pronounced as the English s (in Latin America and Southern Spain) or as a the English th in "think" in Spain.
I use the S sound because I speak the Latin American variation of Spanish.
Don't worry about the differences. Whether you use the S or the TH sounds, Spanish speakers will understand you (but the S sound is easier anyway).
The letter N sounds like the English N, but also softer. And when followed by c or g, this letter has a sound similar to the ng sound in the English word "sing".
Check out the presentation for examples and quick drills.
Spanish Consonants: J, B, V and F
The letter J sounds almost similar to the H sound in English (as in House), but with a bit more rasp.
Students of the Spanish language tend to exagerate this sound too much. Just listen to the presentation for clear examples on how the letter J is pronounced.
The letters B and V are pronounced exactly alike in Spanish.
This used to baffle me because the letter V is called V labidental, which means that - according to its name - it should be pronounced by pressing your lower lip and your upper teeth together, ans in the English word "Victory". But it is not.
At first, I thought that the way people pronounce the letter V in El Salvador and Central America was an idiosincracy of the region. But this theory collapsed when I met Spaniards pronouncing it the same way.
Anyway, this is good for you because you have only one sound to learn for both letters.
B and V are pronounced as the English B in "book", but less strongly.
The letter F is pronounced as the English F in "father" and "feather".
Spanish Consonants: LL, CH, Ñ, and H
Up to 1994, LL and CH were considered letters on their own right by the Real Academia de la Lengua Española.
Consequently, Spanish dictionaries published before 1994 will show entries dedicated to each of these letters.
I'm "old school", and I think it's better to keep them as they used to be before 1994, but that's just me.
Ok, the letter LL (or Ll) is not a double L sound, but more of y sound as in the word "yes". In some South American countries, this letter (and Y), has a more "hissing" sound, a bit of a combination between the Y and the Sh sounds in English.
The letter CH (or Ch) sounds the same as the English word "cheers".
The letter Ñ sounds like the sound ny in the English word "canyon". As far as I know, this is the only letter that you don't find in the English alphabet.
The letter H does not have a sound. It is always silent on its own. However, it modifies the sounds of the letters C (forming the Ch sound) and S (forming the sh sound, but not usually found in Spanish).
Spanish Consonants: R, RR and Z
The letter R has a strong sound at the beginning of a word and when it comes after L, N or S.
In all other cases, it is very slightly rolled.
The rr combination has a strong rolling sound of r between 2 vowels. Like the letters Ch and Ll, rr used to be treated as a single letter.
The letter z sounds like the English s in Latin America, but like the th sound in "think".
The rumour is that King Fernando had a lisp that made him produce that sound, and the members of the court thought it was cool to emulate him.
I don't think it's cool, but exotic. You may disagree with me.... After all, Spaniards still speak like that.
Spanish Consonants: G
I needed to include the letter G on its own because this letter has a few peculiarites of its own. This is not a hard rule to learn, but it may take some getting used to before it flows naturally.... Then again, it may not.
The letter G sounds like the letter J in Spanish (like the H in "house") before the letters e and i.
However, at the beginning of a sentence, or breath group, and followed by the vowels a, o, u, or any consonant, and after the letter N, the letter G sounds makes the same sound as in the English word "go".
To make the same sound with the vowels E and I, you have to place a u before these vowels. Thefore, in the syllables "gue" and "gui", the U is silent, and sound the same as in "guest" and "guitar" respectively.
If you want the U sound to make a sound in those syllables, you have to add a dieresis, that is the two little dots at the top of the U, like this güe and güi.
I'll continue with the rest of the Spanish consonants in the second part of these 2 parts series.
I'm working on it, I promise!
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