Spanish pronunciation: a complete guide for beginners 

November 10, 2023

Pronunciation can be one of the most challenging parts of learning a language. From rolling your r’s to pronouncing the double ll sound, training your mouth to adapt to Spanish pronunciation is no easy feat.

But we’ve got some good news. In Spanish, words are spelled out exactly as they sound. So, as long as you memorise the sounds of each letter of the alphabet, you’ll be able to correctly pronounce Spanish words!

To get you started, we’ve put together this Spanish pronunciation guide for complete beginners. 

First up? Spanish vowels.

Pronouncing Spanish vowels

There are five vowels in Spanish: a, e, i, o, u, and they are always pronounced the same, wherever they fall in a word.

Much simpler than English, which has 20 different sounds for the same five vowels. And they say English is easy!? 

Spanish vowels are short and clear. The sound is affected by the shape of the lips:

  • a – rounded and wide open
  • e – stretched a bit wide
  • i – as if you were laughing
  • o – just a little rounded.
  • u – as if you were giving a kiss

Expert tip 1: Let’s have some fun warming up your mouth and tongue. Try saying this tongue twister three times.

Tres tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal, en tres tristes trastos, tragaban trigo tres tristes tigres. 
Three tigers swallowed wheat in a wheat field, in three sad containers, three sad tigers swallowed wheat.

Now, listen to these Spanish vowel pronunciation examples, then give them a go yourself. 

  • eu, as in euro (e-u-ro) – euro
  • ai, as in aire (a-i-re) – (air)
  • au, as in the name Laura (La-u-ra)

iai, as in leíais (le-í-a-is) – you all read

Expert tip 2: If you come across a word with a lot of vowels, break it down. Start pronouncing each vowel slowly, one by one, with a very short pause between them. Do this as many times as you need to pronounce each letter clearly. Say the word again, a little bit quicker each time, until you are pronouncing the word correctly.

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Learn how to pass for a native with Busuu’s specialised Spanish pronunciation course.

Pronouncing 7 tricky Spanish consonants

Let’s have a look at the pronunciation of some tricky consonants in Spanish.

1. H pronunciation in Spanish

The letter h is always silent in Spanish, wherever it is  in a word. 

The only exception is when you find it together with the letter c. The ch sound is pronounced as it is in English.

For example:

  • hola – hello
  • ahora – now
  • coche – car

2. Ll pronunciation in Spanish

The pronunciation of ‘ll’ varies depending on where you are in the Spanish speaking world. 

  • In Spain and Central America,  it sounds like the English letter y in yes
  • In some other regions, it has a similar sound to the English letter j in jam
  • In Argentina or Uruguay, you’ll hear it pronounced like sh.

There’s no best or worst pronunciation. Try the one that feels most natural to you. 

3. J pronunciation in Spanish

Scots have an advantage here, as this is a common sound in Gaelic. It’s like an h pronounced high in the mouth, a bit like the ch sound in the word loch.

The j sound is much more intense in Spain, as if you’re scraping your throat. But in some other countries in Latin America, it sounds much softer, like the English h in hello, for example.

Listen to this example:

  • Japón – Japan

4. G pronunciation in Spanish

The g can be pronounced in two different ways. 

  • If g is followed by e or i, the sound is quite hard, exactly the same as the Spanish j
  • If it’s followed by any other letter, then it’s like the English g in gossip.

Let’s listen to a few examples:

  • gato – cat
  • agua – water

5. R pronunciation in Spanish

The r can make two sounds in Spanish: one is very soft, the other is the tricky rolled sound.

Take a look at these Spanish words:

  • pero – but
  • perro – dog

In a word with only one r between two vowels (like pero), the pronunciation is very soft. It almost sounds similar to the d in English.

But the one that stumps most English speakers is the rolled r. You’ll need to use this sound when:

  • r is at the beginning of a word
  • r is next to another consonant
  • you have a double rr (like perro)

Expert tip 3: To roll your r’s just right, place your tongue towards the back of your mouth, roll up the sides, relax the tip, and use your breath to create a vibration between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.

Did you try it?

Well done. Now practise it again, and it won’t be long until you get the hang of it!

6. B / V pronunciation

The Spanish b and v are not difficult to pronounce, but can be confusing for beginners as they are quite different to their English sounds.

While these two letters sound very different in English, in Spanish they are pronounced exactly the same. For practical purposes, think of them as exactly the same letter in terms of pronunciation. 

They can sound different , depending where they are in the word. 

  • When b or v are at the beginning of a word or after the letters m and n, the sound is strong.
  • Everywhere else, the sound is soft, something in between the English b and v.

Check out these examples: 

  • hablar – to speak
  • revelar – to reveal

In both of these Spanish verbs, the b / v is pronounced softly.

7. Z / C pronunciation

The pronunciation of these two letters varies from one country to another. 

  • In Latin America and the Canary Islands, the z is pronounced much like the English s.. 
  • In mainland Spain, z sounds like the English th in  ‘theory’.
  • The pronunciation is the same with the letter c when it’s followed by e or i.

The pronunciation of these two letters is not too difficult. The challenge comes when trying to pronounce a word with more than one c or z the way they do in mainland Spain. It can also be tricky when there is an s before the c. In this case, you pronounce both letters separately.

For example:

  • cerveza – beer
  • escepticismo – skepticism

How do you say accents in Spanish

A written accent (´) is sometimes added  above  the vowels (á, é, í, ó, ú) in Spanish. But it’s important to note, vowels are always pronounced the same, whether they have a written accent on them or not.

So why use them? 

  • Sometimes written accents are used to differentiate two words that are pronounced the same, especially in short words, like qué (what) vs que (that) or (you) vs tu (your).
  • In longer words, the syllable containing the accent is pronounced with the most emphasis.

For example:

hablo (ha-blo) – I speak vs habló (ha-bló) – he/she spoke

Test yourself 

Now you know the rules, it’s time to put that learning into action. Try pronouncing these complex Spanish words now you know more about Spanish pronunciation. 

  1. desarrolladores (developers)
  2. impermeabilizante (waterproof)
  3. anaranjado (orange)

How did it go?

Remember, practise your pronunciation as much as you can, and you’ll gain confidence and progress much more quickly. 

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