Spanish Pronunciation

An Overview

Los labios son importantes para una pronunciación clara. (The lips are important for clear pronunciation.). Photo by Christine Roth; licensed via Creative Commons.

One reason many people pick Spanish as their choice for a foreign language is because they've heard that it's easy to learn its pronunciation. Indeed that's the case — even though some of the sounds can be difficult for foreigners to master. Its relative ease of pronunciation stems from the phonetic nature of Spanish: By knowing the spelling of a word, you can almost always know how it's pronounced.

The biggest exception is recent words of foreign origin, and in that case, you have a head start if you know English, because most such words come from English.

The key, then, to learning Spanish spelling is to learn how each letter is pronounced. You can find guides to each of the letters on the following pages:

Here are some general principles of Spanish pronunciation that you may find helpful:

  • The vowel sounds of Spanish are usually purer than those of English. Although the vowel sounds of English can be indistinct — the "a" of "about" sounds much like the "e" of "broken," for example — that isn't the case in Spanish.
  • It is very common for sounds of words to blend together, especially when a word ends in the same letter that begins the next word. For example, helado (ice cream) and el lado are pronounced identically. This process is known as elision.
  • Sounds of consonants tend to be softer or less explosive than they are in English. One notable example is the sound of the h, which has become so softened over the centuries that it is silent in modern speech.
  • The rules on which syllable is stressed are clear and have limited exceptions. If a word has a nonstandard stress, a written accent is placed over a vowel to indicate the correct stress.

Unfortunately, although you can tell how a word is pronounced by its spelling, the reverse isn't always so. In fact, native Spanish speakers are often poor spellers. That's because Spanish has a fair number of homophones -- words that are spelled differently but pronounced alike.