So, you want to learn Spanish? Great choice. Learning to speak Spanish lets you tap into a language spoken by nearly 600 million people. Along with Spain (obvs), it’s the official language of a whopping 18 countries in North and South America, including Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela. There will be differences between Latin American Spanish and European Spanish, but it’s like the difference in English between America and the UK - someone who knows Mexican Spanish can easily converse with someone from Spain.
Luckily for English speakers, Spanish is reasonably easy to learn in comparison to many other languages. This is partly because of its frugal approach to vowel sounds. The Spaniards have kept it nice and straightforward, with just five sounds that perfectly match the five vowels themselves. In comparison, English has a whopping 14 vowel sounds, and we decided to mix it up even further by adding in long and short variations. In Spanish, vowels are always short, like in snap, crackle, and pop. Long vowel sounds, as in cereal, simply don’t exist.
That being said, there are a number of key things you need to remember when it comes to the verbal pronunciation of Spanish. That’s why we’ve put together this handy Spanish pronunciation online guide to help you master the main ones.
If you’re looking for phonetic transcriptions, this blog post is for you. If you’re looking for Spanish pronunciation practice, you can always download our app. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
All in all, we’ll have you speaking the lingo quicker than you can say Salvador Dali.
First, the good news: Spanish letter pronunciation isn’t that complicated. Compared to English, which in this case is more of a consonantal language, Spanish is what’s known as a vocalic one. This makes Spanish vowel pronunciation fairly straightforward, but the consonant pronunciation can cause a few complications.
The consonants are c, v, ll, h, j, r, rr, z, ñ, x, g and q. Here are some of the key rules to remember when it comes to Spanish Consonant pronunciation:
For starters, if a C comes before E, it’s a hard ‘th’ sound (like in the word ‘thick’). If it comes before A, O or U, it’s like a ‘k’ like in the English word ‘kick’. The letter H is always silent. J sounds like a rolled English ‘h’. If you see a double L, like ‘ll’, it sounds like an English Y. We know, stay with us!
Now we come to the real bad boy of Spanish: R.
There are two types, the single r and the rolling double rr. The soft r in Spanish has a similar sound to the English ‘dd’ in words such as ‘buddy’. You pronounce it this way when you find an r in the middle of a word, like in pero (but) for example. On the other hand, the double rr (also known as the hard r) refers to that rolling sound often associated with Spanish. It’s a longer ‘rrrrrr’ sound that many English speakers find difficult. You pronounce the hard r sound in words that start with r or that have a double r in the middle. For example, perro (dog). Or socorro (help!). Watch how this English speaker learns the R’s with a native Spanish speaker:
G can sound like a "H" when it comes before E or I (like in ‘genio’, ‘gimnasio’) and it sounds like a soft G when it comes before A, O or U (like in ‘gato’). AND G+UE or G+UI sound like a soft G (like in ‘guerra’)
The letter Q is only followed by UE or UI, and it would sound like "ke" or "ki" (like in ‘queso’ and ‘quitar’).
V is an initially confusing one. Unlike other languages, ‘v’ is pronounced just like a‘b’. So sometimes two words, like ‘vello’ (body hair) and ‘bello’ (beautiful), will sound exactly the same.
X is pronounced like an S when it's the first letter of a word (like ‘xilófono’). It’s pronounced like an English X or 'ks' when it's in the middle of a word (such as ‘explicar’ - meaning "to explain"). In words like Mexico or Texas, it's pronounced like a "h". Finally, Z sounds like the English ‘th’.
Like most languages (English being an exception), you may have noticed some Spanish letters also come with accent marks. In Spanish they’re known as tildes, and they change how the letter sounds out loud. You’ll only see them on top of á, é, í, ó and ú, and they tell you that’s where to put emphasis in the word. For example, por qué (‘why’) sounds completely different to porque (‘because’).
You’ll also see an extra funky squiggle version on the letter ñ. Fun fact: this is seen as a completely separate letter in the Spanish alphabet. This is pronounced as ‘nyuh’, and you’ll find it in many common words like ‘español’.
That’s a lot to take in! To make it easier for you to remember, we’ve created this Spanish alphabet pronunciation chart.
The key to getting to grips with Spanish numbers is to learn how to count to 20. Well, maybe it’s not that simple - but it’s pretty close! The first twenty numbers are important for two reasons. First off, you’ll use them a lot in day-to-day conversation. And secondly, they lay the foundations for all the following Spanish numbers you need to learn.
Take a look at our Spanish numbers pronunciation chart, you’ll see what we mean:
After 20, it’s mostly a case of remembering each multiple of ten (for example, 30, 40, 50 etc) and then adding on the number from between one and 10 that gives you the final number you need. So if you want to ask for 27 apples, it would be ‘veintisiete manzanas, por favor’. Veinte (20) plus siete (7). Voila! (Yes, we know that’s French…)
One interesting complication with Spanish number pronunciation is that once you get into the thirties and beyond, you need to add ‘y’, meaning ‘and’, between the digits. So if you wanted 37 apples (bravo on the five-a-day front), you’d say ‘treinta y siete manzanas, por favor’. Literally, this is ‘thirty and seven apples, please’.
Want to learn all these numbers quickly? Download the Memrise app! Check out all the content we’ll teach you on numbers in Spanish and Mexican Spanish.
Now that we’ve gone through the basics, here are two key Spanish pronunciation rules for you when you’re practising your Spanish out loud:
You’ve got the basics down, great! But what words and phrases should you learn next? Here’s a cheat sheet of Spanish greetings with pronunciation. You’ll find useful everyday words and phrases you could easily mispronounce here:
The one you always need, no matter what. You can greet anyone in Spain with hola - but remember, don’t pronounce the ‘h’!
Fancy changing up your greetings? You’re covered all day with buenos días, buenas tardes and buenas noches.
My name is…
Introduce yourself with me llamo. Top tip: the ‘ll’ sounds like an English ‘y’.
How are you?
Follow up your greeting with cómo estás.
You can use bueno for ‘okay’, ‘good’ and ‘nice’.
Nice to meet you (said by a man)
If you’re male, you’ll say encantado de conocerte.
Nice to meet you (said by a woman)
Spot the difference! If you’re female, you put an ‘a’ on the end of encantada instead.
Again, the tilde on top of adiós means you stress the ‘o’, like ‘ad-ee-OS’.
Did you know that you can learn all these greetings (and more) on the Memrise app? Check out all the greetings we’ll teach you in Spanish and Mexican Spanish.
Learning the language is a great way to immerse into new cultures. But another great (and delicious) way is through food. We’re going to help you out with the Spanish pronunciation of a few popular dishes you’ll likely encounter. As we said before, there are a *lot* of Spanish speaking countries - rather trying to cover them all, we’ll narrow it down to Spain and Mexico… and even a few everyday foods you might not have known to have Spanish language origins.
Paella: pronounced ‘pah-ay-uh’, this rice dish is often seen as Spain’s national dish… by non-Spaniards. Traditionally, its beautiful yellow colour comes from Saffron and it never, ever contains chorizo. If you want to ruin a Spaniard’s day, just ask for a paella with chorizo and watch them squirm.
Patatas bravas: pronounced ‘pah-tah-tahs brah-bahs’, it simply means ‘spicy potatoes’. This dish might be simple, but it is *chef’s kiss*.
Croquetas: pronounced ‘kro-ke-tas’, Spain’s version of croquettes are fried bechamel sauce fritters - often with ham.
Chipotle: pronounced ‘chi-poht-lay’, this smoke-dried jalapeño pepper is known first to be used as seasoning found in Mexican cuisine before a large American fast-food chain decided to hijack the word.
Tamales: pronounced ‘ta-ma-les’, Tamales are pockets of corn dough, steamed while wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks. You can have sweet or savoury versions of it, filled with everything from meats and cheeses to fruits, vegetables, chillies and mole.
Mole: pronounced ‘mol-eh’, the word simply means ‘sauce’. Don’t let that simplicity fool you though - mole is very complex and comes in a number of variations.
Jalapeño: pronounced ‘ha-la-pe-nyo’, this spicy pepper originated from Mexico and is now commonly seen in shops and supermarkets across the globe. It’s also commonly heard mispronounced as ‘jah-lap-pen-nohs’, but let’s not get into that.
Quinoa: pronounced ‘ki-no-a’, this superfood has become a mainstream health food.
Guacamole: pronounced ‘gua-ka-mo-le’, this avocado based dip was created in Mexico, traditionally made with lime juice, cilantro, onions, and jalapeños.
Ooo, are you hungry yet? To make sure you’re prepared for mealtimes in Spanish, sink your teeth into some of these useful Spanish phrases you’ll find when learning Spanish with the Memrise app:
To let your dining pals know you’re ready to eat, just say tengo hambre - don’t forget the ‘h’ is silent!
Enjoy your meal!
Wish your whole dinner table ¡que aproveche!
Could we have one portion of spicy potatoes?
To ask for one more delicious side, its ¿nos pones una de bravas?
Another beer with lime, please
One of the most important phrases you’ll need in Spain…otra cerveza con limón, por favor.
We’ll bring some snacks
One of the best things you can hear! If you ever hear ‘vale, llevaremos algo de picar’, that means snacks are on their way.
Ready to learn more? We’ve got just the Spanish pronunciation app for you.
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